The benefits of physical activity (PA) on health and fitness are well known. It has become apparent from studies of heritability that there is a considerable genetic component to PA. However, PA is such a complex phenotype that the measurement and quantification of it provide a challenge to a clearer understanding of its genetic basis. In this review, we assessed available evidence from family and twin studies that have estimated the heritability of PA. Heritability is greater when evaluated by accelerometry compared with questionnaires, and for questionnaires higher in twin than family studies. Accelerometry studies suggest heritability of PA is 51% to 56%. There have been many genome-wide linkage studies, candidate gene studies, and four genome-wide association studies that have highlighted specific genetic factors linked to different PA levels. These studies have generally failed to replicate identified loci, with the exception of the melanocortin 4 receptor, and this may be because of the variability in the measurement techniques used to characterize the behavior. Future work should aim to standardize the procedures used to measure PA in the context of trying to identify genetic causes. The link of genetics to physical exercise is not so tight that it prevents voluntary interventions.
Zhang, X., & Speakman, J. R. (2019). Genetic factors associated with human physical activity: Are your genes too tight to prevent you exercising? Endocrinology. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1210/en.2018-00873