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Hate to Exercise? Genes Could be Responsible


If you hate to exercise or just find it really hard to motivate yourself, you may be able to blame it on your genes. A new study found that mice deprived of two genes necessary for exercise ran only a short distance before stopping while their fellow mice with a full set of genes kept on running.

Genes could be your excuse for not exercising

Unlike mice, people can come up with numerous reasons for not wanting to exercise: not enough time, too boring, too much else to do, it’s too hot, and so on. Mice, however, “love to run,” according to Gregory Steinberg, associate professor of medicine in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University.

But Steinberg and his team found things changed when they removed two specific genes in muscle that are critical for exercise. While mice who had not been specially bred “could run for miles, those without the genes in their muscle could only run the same distance as down the hall and back,” said Steinberg.

The special genes are responsible for controlling an enzyme (AMP-activated protein kinase, or AMPK) that is turned on when you exercise. Mice without AMPK genes had lower levels of the energy-producing organelle in cells called mitochondria, and their muscles were less able to take in sugar (glucose) while they exercised.

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It turns out that exercise helps more mitochondria grow in muscle, while being sedentary causes the number of mitochondria to decline. Steinberg noted that “by removing these genes we identified the key regulator of the mitochondria is the enzyme AMPK.”

So what’s the take home message for people who hate to exercise? Steinberg pointed out that “the base level of fitness in the population is going down and that is reducing the mitochondria in people’s muscles. This in turn makes it so much harder for people to start exercising.”

While blaming a lack of motivation to exercise could be placed on your genes, you may get some motivation from another recent study from the University of Illinois. Researchers there found that people who have specific goals, recall past successes, find others to support their exercise efforts, and watch other tackle challenging tasks increase their confidence and are more likely to continue exercising. Although genes may be a reason you hate to exercise, it doesn't need to be an excuse.

McAuley E et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2011 Sep; 41(3): 284-90
McMaster University

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons