If you are unlucky enough to have inherited those bits of DNA called “obesity genes” a new study shows 5 exercises can help keep those predisposed pounds off. It seems you can run away from genetics after all!
Years of research have revealed that what we inherit in the DNA that is passed down to us from our ancestors accounts for somewhere between 21% -84% of the average person’s propensity to become obese. The good news? Even if your parents saddled you with a passel of fat genes, there’s still plenty you can do to counter their influence.
A new study shows that exercise is one way to counteract our genes. The study outlines specifically which forms of regular exercise can ward off obesity in those with more than their fair share of the gene variants that make excessive weight gain more likely.
Combing through a trove of data maintained by Taiwan’s central Biobank, researchers found that fat-prone residents who jogged regularly were the most likely to overcome their inherited vulnerability to obesity. They also found that mountain climbing, long yoga sessions, ballroom dancing, “exercise walking” and even plain-old walking helped ward off a body mass index (or BMI) that defines obesity.
The researchers, from National Taiwan University, collected genetic data, a wide range of health measures and self-reported exercise patterns from 18,424 Taiwanese citizens between 30 and 70 years old. Roughly 58% of them said they did not exercise regularly, while 42% reported routine exercise. Participants told the researchers the types of exercise they did. The respondents were marked down as working out regularly if they exercised for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. Activities related to work, such as manual labor, didn’t count as working out.
While variants of nearly 100 genes have been linked to obesity in people of European descent, those risk factors might not apply to Taiwan’s Han Chinese population. So the researchers used a panel of 50 obesity-related gene variants and divided their subjects into four groups, ranging from those least genetically prone to pack on fat to those with the greatest vulnerability.
Even after accounting for other powerful influences on body size and fat mass – including education level, gender, and age – a habit of exercise was powerfully protective. At every point along the continuum of vulnerability, those who said they exercised regularly had a lower BMI, waist circumference, hip circumference and proportion of body fat than did those who did not exercise.
Jogging regularly, an activity reported by only 12% of the large study’s 7,652 physically active participants, had the best results and was found to attenuate the genetic effects on BMI, body fat and hip circumference. Mountain climbing, walking, dancing, and yoga sessions lasting at least one hour were found to blunt the effects on BMI. Not so effective, the researchers found, were a variety of exercise regimens that are popular in Taiwan. Those included swimming, bicycling and stretching, as well as tai chi and qigong. Some exercises, such as tennis and basketball, were not common in the population studied by the authors, so more data is needed to make the findings relatable to the wider populace.
Clearly some forms of exercise decrease the propensity to express our genes more than others. But study co-author Wan-Yu Lin, associate professor at the Institute of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, National Taiwan University, stressed “The benefits of any type of regular exercise are more impactful in subjects who are more predisposed to obesity.” Exercising for less than 30 minutes three times a week is not enough to reduce the adverse genetic influence on obesity. It is caused by genetics, lifestyle factors, and the interplay between them. While our heredity is inborn, how we choose to live our lives can be determined by the individual.
Most of us won’t find out if we carry the obesity genes, but we know if we have trouble keeping off pounds no matter what we do. At six feet tall, my father weighed 300 pounds most of his adult life. When I was in medical school he and my mother went on a cruise. Since it took my mom an hour of preparations to leave the cabin he decided to join a group activity the ship offered in the mornings while he waited- power walking. He came home pounds lighter, joined a gym, jogged a mile a day, played racquetball and finally got to the desired 200 pound mark a year later.
This study adds to all the other data we know so far -exercise can help maintain a lower body weight in people who are genetically predisposed to carrying extra pounds. Adding exercise is beneficial to all of us. Jogging is easy- it doesn’t require any equipment, it gets you outdoors and works the entire body. While it may not be the best fit for many due to back, neck, knee, and foot issues, try waltzing the pounds away or picking your favorite yoga pose. Whether you have the genes or not, exercise drops pounds and keeps us healthy.