Do you think your genes are conspiring against you when it comes to staying slim? Genetics play a role in body weight, but genetics aren’t destiny. Those are the results of a large analysis of studies looking at obesity and genetics. Even if the majority of people in your family are pushing the scales too high, you have a weapon to ward off weight gain – exercise. Research shows that staying physically active is the key to keeping weight off if genetics aren’t working in your favor.
Genetics and Obesity
Researchers haven’t found all of the genes that contribute to obesity but one they have identified is a variant in a gene called the FTO gene. Up to 40% of all people of European heritage carry a copy of this gene variant, which increases their risk of being overweight or obese. Researchers have studied this gene in children. Having this variant doesn’t directly affect metabolism, but it’s linked with greater food consumption. There’s some evidence that this obesity gene variant alters levels of leptin, one of the main hormones that control appetite. People with this variant on average have a higher BMI, a greater percentage of body fat and a wider waist measurement.
Obesity, Genetics, and Exercise
A recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine Journal showed that staying physically active is the key to warding off weight gain if you carry this gene. They found that the risk for obesity dropped by 27% among adults with this gene variant who stayed physically active. They discovered this after looking at more than 45 studies involving over 200,000 participants. That’s good news if obesity runs in your family.
How Much Exercise Do You Need to Keep Those Fat and Obesity Genes at Bay?
When researchers tracked levels of physical activity in adolescents with the obesity gene variant, they discovered that those who exercised at a moderate to high intensity for an hour or more a day didn’t suffer the effects of the obesity gene. Other studies show that an hour or more of moderate-intensity exercise also wards off weight gain that comes with age. Moderate intensity exercise would include activities like jogging, walking briskly, cycling and other aerobic activities that feel challenging but still comfortable. Low-intensity activity such as walking at a leisurely pace, stretching or yoga doesn’t seem to have the same benefit when it comes to preventing weight gain due to age or genetics.
The Bottom Line?
Even if you weren’t dealt the skinny genes of a supermodel and inherited Aunt Bessy’s wide hips and girth instead, it doesn’t mean you’re destined to be overweight or obese. Exercise is the best fat gene modulator there is. Spending an hour daily doing moderate to high-intensity exercise is a small price to pay for good health. Plus, you’ll get all of the additional benefits that exercise has to offer. Regular exercise gives you more energy and endurance, and it’s one of the best mood boosters there is. In addition, it helps to reduce the risk of chronic health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. What could be better?
WebMD. “How the FTO Obesity Gene Works”
Diabetes. 2008 November; 57(11): 3145–3151.
Family Practice News. April 15, 2010, page 26.
WebMD. “Exercise Can Overcome Obesity Gene” Articles By Cathe: