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For Those With a Genetic Predisposition to Obesity, Not All Exercise Is Equal

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A new study published in PLOS Genetics by researchers at Taiwan University suggests that certain exercises are more effective for weight loss in individuals with a genetic propensity for obesity.

The study recruited 18,424 unrelated Han Chinese adults aged 30–70 years who from the Taiwan Biobank (TWB). It aimed to investigate gene-exercise interactions on 5 obesity measures: body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, waist circumference, hip circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). A genetic risk score (GRS) was calculated as a weighted sum of risk-allele counts, where the weights were usually derived from large published genome-wide association studies (GWASs) or meta-analyses.

Of the exercises examined in the study, regular jogging was the most broadly effective at mitigating the genetic effects on all five obesity measures. When focusing solely on BMI, five other exercises stood out as being beneficial to those predisposed to obesity: mountain climbing, walking, exercise walking, international standard dancing, and a longer practice of yoga. The benefits of regularly performing these six kinds of exercise are more impactful in subjects who are more predisposed to obesity. Exercises such as cycling (989 subjects), stretching exercise (602 subjects), swimming (486 subjects), DDR (420 subjects), and qigong (377 subjects) were more popular or as popular as yoga (379 subjects), but their evidence of interacting with GRS was fairly weak.

It must be considered that the study cohort is solely Han Chinese individuals, which has implications when looking to generalize the results against wider populations across the globe. Secondly, levels of physical activity were recorded via-self report measures which can be highly subjective. Finally, certain exercises that were reported, such as basketball and tennis, were too under-represented to gather results from.

The authors note that few studies have investigated the interplay between specific types of exercise and genetic risk of obesity measures. Thus, it is difficult to compare the results of the study with previous findings. However, they do suggest possible explanations for their findings, including the hypothesis that jogging, compared to swimming and cycling for example, generates a greater level of energy expenditure, and that swimming in cold water stimulates appetite and food intake, meaning it may not be as effective as other exercises. 

Reference: Wan-Yu Lin , Chang-Chuan Chan, Yu-Li Liu, Albert C. Yang, Shih-Jen Tsai and Po-Hsiu Kuo. 2019. Performing different kinds of physical exercise differentially attenuates the genetic effects on obesity measures: Evidence from 18,424 Taiwan Biobank participants. PLOS Genetics. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1008277.

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