Genetic effects on physical activity: results from the Swedish Twin Registry

Sofia Carlsson, Tomas Andersson, Paul Lichtenstein, Karl Michaëlsson, Anders Ahlbom
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2006, 38 (8): 1396-401

PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to investigate the genetic effects on leisure-time physical activity using data from the Swedish Twin Registry.

METHODS: We investigated 13,362 twin pairs (5334 monozygotic and 8028 dizygotic pairs) aged 14-46 yr. Information on leisure-time physical activity was obtained by questionnaire. Correlations and odds ratios of physical activity were calculated for males, females, and monozygotic and dizygotic twins, respectively. Structural equation modeling was used to estimate the contribution of genetic effects as well as common and nonshared environmental factors on leisure-time physical activity.

RESULTS: About one third of the twins reported that they exercised regularly (26% in females and 39% in males). The correlations of physical activity were twice as high in monozygotic compared with dizygotic twins, suggesting the presence of genetic effects. The variation in physical activity due to heritage was 57% (95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.49-0.63) in males and 50% (95% CI = 0.49-0.55) in females. The common environmental influence on physical activity was very small compared with the influence from environmental factors unique to the individual.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study establishes heredity as an important component behind individual differences in physical activity in adult men and women. This may be one reason behind difficulties in convincing people to adopt an active lifestyle. Still, this study shows that there is a substantial influence on physical activity from environmental factors unique to the individual.

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