Participation in diverse physical activities has beneficial health effects. However, little is known on how genetic and environmental factors affect this trait. Thus, we examined to what extent these factors explain participation in diverse leisure-time physical activities from late adolescence to adulthood using a twin study design.
The participants were Finnish twins who reported their participation in diverse leisure-time physical activities at ages 17 (n = 5429) and 34 yr (n = 4246). The number of physical activities engaged in was analyzed using applications of structural linear modeling for twin data.
On average, the total number of physical activities engaged in during leisure time was slightly over three at both ages and in both sexes, with moderate heritability estimates (40%–58%) from adolescence to adulthood. Environmental factors shared by co-twins (e.g., childhood family environment) influenced only in adolescence, being higher for women. Environmental influences unique to each co-twin explained the remaining variances (34%–57%), being higher at age 34 yr. Participation in diverse leisure-time physical activities correlated moderately between ages 17 and 34 yr (men: rtrait = 0.30, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.25–0.35; women: rtrait = 0.26, 95% CI = 0.22–0.31). In addition, genetic influences on participation in physical activities correlated moderately between adolescence and adulthood (rA = 0.51, 95% CI = 0.39–0.64, and 0.44, 95% CI = 0.34–0.55, respectively). These common genetic influences explained 93% of the trait correlations found in men and 85% in women.
Genetic and unique environmental influences explain a large proportion of variation in the number of leisure-time physical activities. However, the estimates vary by age and sex. Common genetic background mainly explains the continuity of the participation in diverse leisure-time physical activities between adolescence and adulthood.