Don’t like exercising? Blame the couch potato gene

There now may be a realistic reason for not keeping with an exercise program.  Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham may have found a genetic link for the lack of energy or motivation that some people experience when exercising.

Researchers involved in the TIGER Study, or Training Interventions & Genetics of Exercise Response study, are looking into differences in participants DNA and how these differences may play a role in a body’s response to exercise.

Dr. Molly Bray began the five year TIGER study at UAB in 2011 and is investigating the exercise patterns of 3200 university students.  The latest findings show that participants with a certain variation of the gene called the FTO gene have a harder time staying with an exercise program than those participants with an alternate form of the gene. Those with the particular variation feel exercise is difficult and unpleasant.

Previous research has linked the FTO gene with obesity and increased body mass index (BMI). Related studies with the Amish, however, have shown that high levels of exercise may override the gene’s effects.  

Further research may shed light on how the FTO gene actually works in humans. Animal research may provide interesting clues.  A Canadian study using mice suggests that certain genes may affect how much energy cells produce when metabolizing food.  In this study, one group of mice were bred without a certain set of genes and compared to a group of normal mice. Those bred without the genes could not run as long as the normal mice. The researchers found that without the necessary genes, the muscle cells were not able to make enough energy to keep the mice exercising.

The discovery of the couch potato gene could go a long way to help those who have difficulty staying with an exercise program.  Hopefully the results of the TIGER study will encourage personal trainers to design programs that identify personal challenges and then fit recommended exercise with individual personalities and lifestyles.   By combining a well-designed exercise plan with healthy eating, people at risk for weight gain and related chronic conditions could stay motivated long-term and enjoy the benefits of a healthy life.

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