At the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress in Sydney last week Bouchard reported the results of a study assessing the role of genes in fitness and health changes in response to exercise. In the study, 742 people from 213 families were put through a strict 20-week endurance training programme. The volunteers had not taken regular physical activity for the previous six months. Exercise on stationary bikes was gradually increased so that by the last six weeks the volunteers were exercising for 50 minutes three times a week at 75 per cent of the maximum output they were capable of before the study. Previous reports indicated that there are huge variations in "trainability" between subjects. For example, the team found that training improved maximum oxygen consumption, a measure of a person's ability to perform work, by 17 per cent on average. But the most trainable volunteers gained over 40 per cent, and the least trainable showed no improvement at all. Similar patterns were seen with cardiac output, blood pressure, heart rate and other markers of fitness.
Bouchard reported that the impact of training on insulin sensitivity- a marker of risk for diabetes and heart disease- also varied. It improved in 58 per cent of the volunteers following exercise, but in 42 per cent it showed no improvement or, in a few cases, may have got worse. "It's negative, but it's true. Some people slog away and don't get any improvement," says Kathryn North of the Institute of Neuromuscular Research at the Children's Hospital at Westmead in Sydney. In the eight volunteers who showed the largest improvement in insulin sensitivity, 51 genes were expressed in muscles at double the levels of the eight people who showed the least improvement, and 74 genes were expressed at half the level. Many of these genes were a surprise to the researchers because they have not previously been linked to exercise. "We need to recognise that although on average exercise may have clear benefits, it may not work for everyone," says Mark Hargreaves of Deakin University in Melbourne. "Some people may do better to change their diet."
Rachel Nowak, Sydney
This article appears in New Scientist issue: 4 December 2004
PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS STORY AND, IF PUBLISHING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A HYPERLINK TO: http://www.
"These articles are posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to quote extracts as part of fair dealing with this copyrighted material. Full attribution is required, and if publishing online a link to www.newscientist.com is also required. Advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full - please contact email@example.com. Please note that all material is copyright of Reed Business Information Limited and we reserve the right to take such action as we consider appropriate to protect such copyright."