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Genetic Influences on Physical Activity in Young Adults: A Twin Study


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2012 - Volume 44 - Issue 7 - p 1293–1301
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182479747

Purpose The aim of this study was to investigate genetic and environmental influences on different aspects of physical activity in young adult twins.

Methods We studied 1274 Finnish twins with a mean age of 22.4 yr, from the population-based FinnTwin12 study. Physical activity was assessed with the Baecke Questionnaire, yielding four indexes: the sport index, leisure time activity index, work index, and total score. Quantitative genetic analyses based on linear structural equations were used to estimate the contribution of genetic and environmental factors on these physical activity traits.

Results The overall heritability estimates were 64% (95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.56%–0.70%) for sports activity, 41% (95% CI = 0.31%–0.51%) for leisure time activity excluding sports, 56% (95% CI = 0.48%–0.63%) for physical activity at work, and 54% (95% CI = 0.45%–0.62%) for total physical activity. Unique environmental factors accounted for the rest of the trait variances. We did not find evidence for common environmental or dominant genetic influences. The heritability estimates did not differ between men and women, and no sex-specific genetic factors were found. Sports activity and leisure time activity excluding sports were associated (r = 0.27), and additive genetic factors explained 57% of their association.

Conclusions Our results suggest that genetic factors contribute significantly to physical activity levels in young adults and that sports activity is under stronger genetic influence than leisure time physical activity excluding sports. We also concluded that physical activity at work does not seem to be associated with sports activities or other leisure time physical activity at this age.

1Hjelt Institute, Twin Research Unit, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, FINLAND; 2Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, FINLAND; 3Obesity Research Unit, Department of Medicine, Division of Internal Medicine, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, FINLAND; 4Department of Psychiatry, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, FINLAND; and 5Institute for Molecular Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, FINLAND

Address for correspondence: Linda Mustelin, Hjelt Institute, Twin Research Unit, PO Box 41, 00014 University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland; E-mail:

Submitted for publication March 2011.

Accepted for publication December 2011.

©2012The American College of Sports Medicine