New research examines the effect of 18 different kinds of exercise on people with a high genetic risk of developing obesity. The findings identify six exercises that can offset the genetic effects on five measures of obesity.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 13% of adults across the world have obesity. In the United States, the situation is even more concerning, with almost 40% of the adult population living with obesity.
Although obesity is the result of a complex interplay between lifestyle and genes, a person's genetic predisposition to the condition does play a central role, and researchers are only just starting to understand the influence that genes have on excessive body weight.
For instance, a study that appeared earlier this year compared over 14,000 participants with low, normal, and high body mass index (BMI) measurements, only to conclude that the "genetic dice are loaded" against those with obesity.
Another recent study found that single gene mutations are responsible for approximately 30% of severe obesity cases in children, and older estimates suggested that as much as 81% of a person's weight could be heritable.
While these studies have positive implications — such as the destigmatization of obesity — the flipside is that people with obesity may feel defeated in their efforts to shed those extra pounds.
In this regard, new research brings much-needed hope. Wan-Yu Lin of the National Taiwan University in Taipei City recently led a study reviewing the types of physical exercise that are particularly effective in offsetting the genetic predisposition to obesity.
Lin and colleagues published their findings in the journal PLOS Genetics.
Jogging best for obesity
The researchers examined data from 18,424 "unrelated Han Chinese adults" who were between 30 and 70 years of age and had participated in the Taiwan Biobank study.
Lin and colleagues looked at five obesity measurements: BMI, body fat percentage, waist circumference, hip circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio. The team also used internal weights from the Taiwan Biobank study to devise genetic risk scores for each of the five obesity measurements.
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The Taiwan Biobank study also included self-reported data from the participants on the forms of exercise that they did on a regular basis. The researchers examined 18 such types of workout.
An examination of the interactions between a person's genetic risk score and their exercise routine revealed that jogging was the best workout for reducing obesity.
Specifically, regular jogging offset the genetic risk across three measures: BMI, body fat percentage, and hip circumference. "Across all five obesity measures, regular jogging consistently presented the most significant interactions with [genetic risk scores]," add the researchers.
Furthermore, "Mountain climbing, walking, exercises walking, international standard dancing, and a longer practice of yoga also attenuated the genetic effects on BMI," report the authors.
By contrast, other popular activities, such as "cycling, stretching exercise, swimming, dance dance revolution, and qigong," had no effect on the genetic predisposition to obesity.
The results also showed that weight training, badminton, table tennis, basketball, tennis, tai chi, and "other" exercise routines were ineffective in lessening a person's predisposition to obesity. However, the team notes that there were limited data on some of these activities because they were less popular among the participants.
Lin and colleagues conclude:
"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."