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Archive for Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Got a fat gene? Just get active for 3 to 4 hours a day

September 9, 2008

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— Maybe you CAN blame being fat on your genes. But there's a way to overcome that family history: Just get three to four hours of moderate activity a day.

Sound pretty daunting?

Not for the Amish of Lancaster County, Pa., who were the focus of a new study on a common genetic variation that makes people more likely to gain weight. It turns out the variant's effects can be blocked with physical activity - lots of it.

Scientists believe about 30 percent of white people of European ancestry have this variant, including the Amish, and that may partly explain why so many people are overweight.

But fighting that fat factor may be easier in the Amish community's 19th century lifestyle. They don't use cars or modern appliances. Many of the men are farmers and carpenters, and the women, who are homemakers, often care for several children.

The researchers found that Amish people with the genetic variant were no more likely to be overweight than those who had the regular version of the gene - as long as they got three to four hours of moderate activity every day. That included things like brisk walking, housecleaning and gardening.

And while physical activity is recommended for just about everyone, the study suggests that people with the gene variation need to be especially vigilant about getting exercise.

"These findings emphasize the important role of physical activity in public health efforts to combat obesity, particularly in genetically susceptible people," the authors wrote in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine.

Study co-author Dr. Soren Snitker of the University of Maryland acknowledged that it's unrealistic to expect most people to shun modern conveniences and return to a 19th century lifestyle for the sake of staying trim.

But he said every little bit helps, and that adding an extra few hours of activity daily might not be as hard as it seems.

Instead of watching TV for a few hours at night, take a brisk walk, he suggested. Or use stairs instead of elevators, walk instead of driving, or take up a structured exercise such as swimming.

Previous research based on self-reporting of physical activity has produced similar results. The new study used a more reliable measure: battery-operated monitoring devices worn round-the-clock for a week, said lead author Evadnie Rampersaud of the University of Miami.

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