The Six Exercises That Appear to Beat the Effects of Obesity Genes, According to Scientists

Jogging is among the exercises that can help stop a person becoming obese even if they have a genetic risk of developing the condition, according to researchers.

The new research involved 18,424 Han Chinese adults aged between 30 to 70 years old, who took part in the Taiwan Biobank study. Researchers collected measures of obesity including BMI, body fat percentage, waist and hip circumferences, and waist-to-hip ratio. The team also calculated genetic risk scores using data from the Taiwan Biobank.

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.

The authors of the paper published in the journal PLOS found exercising regularly appeared to ease the overall influence of genes linked to obesity on four measures: BMI and body fat, as well as waist and hip circumference.

Jogging regularly had the best results and was found to attenuate the genetic effects on BMI, body fat and hip circumference. Mountain climbing, walking, dancing to an international standard and yoga sessions lasting at least one hour were found to blunt the effects on BMI.

However, cycling, stretching, swimming, rhythmic dancing games and qigong didn't make a difference to the obesity measures.

workout clothing, running shoes, headphones, smartphone, getty
A stock image of exercise clothing. Scientists have studied which forms of physical activity can help combat the influence of genes linked to obesity. Getty

Past studies have also suggested working out can lessen the influence of genes related to obesity on BMI. But the authors argue BMI isn't the most accurate measure of the condition.

The BMI score (calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters) does not include measures like excess body fat or distribution, or take into account variables such as age, sex, ethnicity and muscle mass that can shape a person's health in numerous ways.

Study co-author Wan-Yu Lin, associate professor at the Institute of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, National Taiwan University, told Newsweek: "The benefits 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, she stressed.

"Obesity is caused by genetics, lifestyle factors, and the interplay between them. While hereditary materials are inborn, lifestyle factors can be determined by oneself," commented Wan-Yu.

Kathryn Erica Bradbury, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Auckland who did not work on the study, told Newsweek: "This study adds more support to previous findings—that exercise can help maintain a lower body weight in people who are genetically predisposed to carrying extra weight."

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, she argued.

Most people won't find out if they're genetically predisposed to carrying extra weight, said Bradbury, but added exercise is beneficial to everyone.

Earlier this month, a separate team took a look at obesity from another angle, and concluded people have gotten fatter in the past 50 years because of the environments we live in.

What is known as an obesogenic environment could heighten our chances of having an unhealthy body mass index from the time we are in the womb until we die, warned the authors of the study published in The BMJ.