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Exercise: People with good genes can bulk up their muscles and get fit quicker, study finds 


Struggling to sculpt a six pack? Poor DNA might be to blame as people with ‘good’ genes can bulk up their muscles and get fit quicker, study finds

  • Anglia Ruskin University experts reviewed studies into fitness training outcomes
  • They found that 13 genes are responsible for how the body responds to exercise
  • These account for up to 72 per cent of the variation in given training outcomes 
  • The rest of the variation is a result of other factors — such as diet and nutrition


People with ‘good’ genes are able to bulk up their muscles and get fit quicker, a study has found — perhaps explaining why, for some, a six pack remains elusive.

Researchers from the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge reviewed 24 past studies to determine how genetics affects the results of exercise training

For one set of exercises designed to improve muscle strength, the team found that genetic difference accounted for 72 per cent of the variation in fitness outcomes. 

And the researchers concluded that 13 genes are responsible for how the body reacts to cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and anaerobic power exercises.

Based on their findings, the team have suggested that genetic testing could be used to better tailor exercises to each individual to achieve the best results.

People with ‘good’ genes are able to bulk up their muscles and get fit quicker, a study has found — perhaps explaining why, for some, a six pack remains elusive

THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE TRAINING 

While participants in the studies experienced different outcomes from their training regimes based on their genetic makeups, all nevertheless showed fitness improvements. 

In fact, on average, the subjects saw a 22 per cent increase in strength, an 11 per cent improvement in cardiovascular fitness and a 12 per cent boost to their anaerobic power after two weeks of training.

‘We know that exercise is good for us, but we all improve at different rates, even when following identical training regimes. This means there are other factors at play,’ said paper author and sport scientist Henry Chung of Anglia Ruskin University.

In their study, Mr Chung and colleagues reviewed 24 previous studies, analysing the results of experiments on a total of 3,012 adults aged between 15–55 to assess how genetics can affect the impact of three important areas of physical exercise.

Specifically, these were anaerobic power, cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength — representing, the team explained, key factors in shaping an individual’s fitness, quality of life and wellbeing.

In each experiment, participants all showed fitness improvements following their exercise training, but to degrees that varied even when the subjects were following the same exercise routine.

‘Our study found 13 genes that have a role in exercise outcomes, and we found that specific alleles contained within these genes are more suited to certain aspects of fitness,’ Mr Chung explained.

‘For example, with repetition exercises designed to boost muscular strength, genetic differences explained 72 per cent of the variation in outcomes between people following the same training,’ Mr Chung continued.

‘Because everyone’s genetic make-up is different, our bodies respond slightly differently to the same exercises.

‘Therefore, it should be possible to improve the effectiveness of an exercise regime by identifying someone’s genotype and then tailoring a specific training programme just for them.

‘This could particularly benefit those who need to see improvements in a short period of time, such as hospital patients — or elite sportspeople, where marginal improvements could mean the difference between success and failure.’ 

For one set of exercises designed to improve muscle strength, the team found that genetic difference accounted for 72 per cent of the variation in fitness outcomes

For one set of exercises designed to improve muscle strength, the team found that genetic difference accounted for 72 per cent of the variation in fitness outcomes

The researchers also found that genetic variations were responsible for 44 per cent if the differences in outcomes seen after cardiovascular fitness exercises and 10 per cent of the differences after anaerobic power exercises.

The remaining variations, they explained, are influenced by other factors — including diet and nutrition, recovery and injuries. 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

HOW MUCH EXERCISE YOU NEED

To stay healthy, adults aged 19 to 64 should try to be active daily and should do:

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

Or:

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

Or:

  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week – for example, 2 x 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and
  • strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

A good rule is that 1 minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as 2 minutes of moderate activity.

One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days every week.

All adults should also break up long periods of sitting with light activity.

Source: NHS 

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