In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Molly Bray of The University of Texas at Austin explains the connection between genetics and the ability to stick to an exercise routine.
Molly Bray is a professor and the Susan T. Jastrow Human Ecology Chair for Excellence in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on the relationship between energy balance and lifestyle factors such as exercise, nutrition, and circadian patterns of behavior. Her most recent project explores the genetic basis for exercise adherence.
Dr. Molly Bray - Genetics and Exercise
Many Americans will resolve to start an exercise program in the New Year. Of those who start, unfortunately, many will quit within the first few workouts. Physical activity in the United States is below recommended levels, even among young people.
In 2003, we began an exercise study called the TIGER Study designed to identify genes that influence response to exercise training. We invited inactive undergraduates to participate in a 30-minute/three-day per week course. To date, more than 3,000 individuals have participated in this on-going study.
Participants receive a physical exam before, during and after the exercise program that includes measures of body composition, cardiovascular risk factors and genes. During exercise sessions, participants use computerized heart rate monitors to guide them in performing aerobic exercise.
Our data show that exercise adherence is closely tied to levels of exercise intensity and duration. The longer a participant maintains an optimal heart rate and the higher the heart rate, the more likely that person is to complete the program. We hypothesize that the positive changes that result from working out longer and more intensely may actually help people to stick to a program.
Our research also shows that exercise can feel “harder” for some compared to others, and those feelings may be related to genes. If your New Year’s resolution includes beginning to exercise, you can maximize your chances of making this lifestyle change permanent by working at a higher pace and being consistent, especially with the first three or four workouts. For many of us, beginning an exercise program can be hard. So give yourself credit for making the effort to be physically active.