Published: 14 October 2021 at 19:00
New PLOS ONE research identifies exactly why people improve at different rates
A new study has found that genes play a significant role in how our bodies respond to exercise and has identified a number of specific genes that influence the outcomes of different kinds of physical activity.
The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE and led by experts from the Cambridge Centre for Sport & Exercise Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), found that up to 72% of the difference between people in performance outcome following a specific exercise can be due to genetic differences.
The scientists analysed results from 3,012 adults aged between 18-55 – who had not previously taken part in exercise training – to determine how our genes can affect three important types of physical exercise.
Muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, and anaerobic power are all key factors in shaping an individual’s fitness, wellbeing, and quality of life, and all participants showed improvements following their exercise training, but to varying degrees, even when performing exactly the same exercise training.
By combining data from 24 separate studies, the researchers discovered that genetic differences are responsible for 72% of the variation in outcomes for people following identical exercises designed to improve muscle strength.
Meanwhile, genetic variations caused 44% of the differences seen following cardiovascular fitness exercises, measured through V̇O2max testing, and 10% of the differences in outcomes following exercises to improve anaerobic power, which is key for movement and agility. The remaining variations are influenced by other factors such as diet and nutrition, recovery, and injuries.
Each gene possesses alleles, and the allele type can influence how effective that gene is. The researchers believe it is these alleles that cause people’s bodies to respond differently to the same exercises.
In total, the study identified 13 genes, and associated alleles, as being responsible for how well the body reacts to cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, and anaerobic power exercises.
The researchers suggest that gene testing could allow exercises to be tailored so they are more effective for each individual, rather than generic exercise for all. This could benefit everyone from hospital patients undergoing rehabilitation to elite sportspeople.
Lead author Henry Chung, a Postgraduate Researcher at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:
The full, open-access paper can be read here.