Jogging and five other exercises ward off weight gain despite ‘obesity genes’

Summary: For those with a genetic predisposition to obesity, partaking in six specific types of exercise can help combat weight gain. Jogging, yoga, power walking, certain types of dancing and mountain climbing can help reduce BMI in those with a predisposition to obesity. Surprisingly, cycling, swimming, and games like Dance Dance Revolution did not counteract the genetic effects on obesity.

Source: PLOS

For people who inherited genes that increase their chance of becoming obese, there is hope for keeping the weight off. A study by Wan-Yu Lin of National Taiwan University and colleagues published 1st August in PLOS Genetics, identified the types of exercise that are especially effective at combatting genetic effects that contribute to obesity.

Worldwide, obesity is a challenging condition to control because it results from interactions between a person’s genetics and lifestyle. Doctors often recommend exercise, but it is not clear which kinds are best for curbing weight gain in individuals whose genetics make them more likely to become obese. A new study of 18,424 Han Chinese adults, aged 30 to 70 years, examined the interactions between the individuals’ genetics and their self-reported exercise routines. The researchers looked specifically at five measures of obesity, such as body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage and waist-to-hip ratio. They found that regular jogging was the best type of exercise for managing obesity, according to the five measures. Moreover, mountain climbing, walking, power walking, certain types of dancing, and long yoga practices also reduce BMI in individuals predisposed to obesity. Surprisingly, cycling, stretching exercises, swimming and Dance Dance Revolution did not counteract the genetic effects on obesity.

This is a cartoon of a woman jogging on a treadmill
This is an image depicting a female running on a treadmill. Running increases the heart rate and acts as good cardiovascular exercise. The treadmill is shown surrounded by plants and fields; running outdoors or in a gym is a good form of exercise. The image is credited to Bill McConkey, Wellcome Collection.

Overall, the study suggests that when it comes to obesity, genetics are not destiny, and the effects can be lessened by several kinds of regular exercise. Previous research has shown that frequent physical activity blunts the genetic effects on obesity, but these studies focused only on BMI. The new study also considers four other measures of obesity that are more closely linked to metabolic problems. As obesity continues to be a serious public health challenge, the benefits of exercise cannot be overstated.

Funding: This study was supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan (grant number MOST 107-2314-B-002-195-MY3 to Wan-Yu Lin). The acquisition of TWB data was supported by a MOST grant (grant number MOST 102-2314-B-002-117-MY3 to Po-Hsiu Kuo) and a collaboration grant (National Taiwan University Hospital: grant number UN106-050 to Shyr-Chyr Chen and Po-Hsiu Kuo). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

About this neuroscience research article

Media Contacts:
Po-Hsiu Kuo – PLOS
Image Source:
The image is credited to Bill McConkey, Wellcome Collection.

Original Research: Open access
“Performing different kinds of physical exercise differentially attenuates the genetic effects on obesity measures: Evidence from 18,424 Taiwan Biobank participants”. Lin W-Y, Chan C-C, Liu Y-L, Yang AC, Tsai S-J, Kuo P-H.
PLOS Genetics. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1008277


The gradual development of the preference for natural environments

Obesity is a worldwide health problem that is closely linked to many metabolic disorders. Regular physical exercise has been found to attenuate the genetic predisposition to obesity. However, it remains unknown what kinds of exercise can modify the genetic risk of obesity. This study included 18,424 unrelated Han Chinese adults aged 30–70 years who participated in the Taiwan Biobank (TWB). A total of 5 obesity measures were investigated here, including body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage (BFP), waist circumference (WC), hip circumference (HC), and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Because there have been no large genome-wide association studies on obesity for Han Chinese, we used the TWB internal weights to construct genetic risk scores (GRSs) for each obesity measure, and then test the significance of GRS-by-exercise interactions. The significance level throughout this work was set at 0.05/550 = 9.1×10-5 because a total of 550 tests were performed. Performing regular exercise was found to attenuate the genetic effects on 4 obesity measures, including BMI, BFP, WC, and HC. Among the 18 kinds of self-reported regular exercise, 6 mitigated the genetic effects on at least one obesity measure. Regular jogging blunted the genetic effects on BMI, BFP, and HC. Mountain climbing, walking, exercise walking, international standard dancing, and a longer practice of yoga also attenuated the genetic effects on BMI. Exercises such as cycling, stretching exercise, swimming, dance dance revolution, and qigong were not found to modify the genetic effects on any obesity measure. Across all 5 obesity measures, regular jogging consistently presented the most significant interactions with GRSs. Our findings show that the genetic effects on obesity measures can be decreased to various extents by performing different kinds of exercise. The benefits of regular physical exercise are more impactful in subjects who are more predisposed to obesity.

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