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Personalized Exercise? How Biology Influences Fitness
Different types of exercise can bring different health benefits. You can strengthen your bones with weights. Increase your flexibility with stretching, or, improve your heart health with aerobic activity. But people’s bodies are built differently. Some people have more of the type of muscle that provides strength.
Others have more of the type that provides endurance, which keeps you moving for a long period of time. This is one reason why people may be naturally suited to different sports.
But this idea doesn’t just apply to athletes, it affects people getting physical activity for fitness, too.
“There are a variety of reasons why different people might adapt better to different types of exercise training,” says an exercise researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “An important factor that we’re starting to learn more about is our genes.”
Researchers are studying how genes influence our bodies’ responses to physical activity.
They’re also looking at how exercise affects people’s bodies differently. They’re even exploring how it affects your microbes. “The end goal is to be able to provide an exercise “prescription” that is optimal for each person, so they can gain the most benefit.”
Scientists know that different types of exercise have different effects on health. The benefits vary by type, intensity, and amount of exercise.
For example, his lab has observed that long bouts of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking, may be especially good at lowering blood sugar levels. This can be important for people trying to prevent diabetes. But maybe you want to reduce the levels of “bad” cholesterol in your blood to help prevent a heart attack. For that, a lot of high-intensity exercise to get your heart pounding may help the most.
His team has observed these effects across ages and for both men and women. But when you look at individuals within those groups, he says, not everyone gets the same benefit from the same workout. “We want to understand how your genetic background determines your response to exercise,” he says. His research team has identified a set of genes that predict who will get the biggest improvements in heart health from aerobic exercises, like jogging or cycling. The research team has found a set of genes that may help predict who would gain the most muscle from a strength training program.
“Everybody responds to exercise in a positive way. For example, people who couldn’t gain muscle as well as other people still gained strength in our study. They still improved walking ability and a lot of other important aspects of health. There really is almost no health intervention as potent and as broad in its benefit as physical activity.”