Genetic Predisposition for Physical Activity Linked to Fewer Cardiovascular Risk Factors


Individuals with a genetic predisposition for higher levels of physical activity may have fewer risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, according to a study conducted at the University of Jyväskylä’s Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences. The study, published in an epidemiology journal, revealed that this genetic predisposition is associated with a reduced risk of developing hypertension, cerebrovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes.


The international collaboration study investigated the role of genetics in physical activity, aerobic fitness, and cardiovascular health in a large Norwegian cohort. The findings showed that individuals with a genetic predisposition for higher physical activity levels reported engaging in more physical activity. Moreover, these individuals exhibited more favorable cardiovascular risk factors, such as higher HDL cholesterol levels, smaller waist circumference, and lower body mass index. Additionally, the genetic predisposition for physical activity was linked to a lower risk of hypertension, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.


Niko Tynkkynen, a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, highlighted that the genetic variation partially regulates both physical activity levels and disease development. Tynkkynen’s research earned the Young Investigator Award at the Exercise Medicine Days in 2022.


The study utilized a novel approach to determine genetic predisposition for physical activity. Using a large dataset from the UK Biobank, which included genetic variation and physical activity information from 400,000 Europeans, researchers calculated an individualized polygenic risk score for physical activity for approximately 47,000 Norwegian participants. This polygenic risk score summarizes the combined effects of millions of genetic variants in a heritable trait.


This groundbreaking study is the first to explore the genetic predisposition for physical activity in relation to maximal oxygen uptake and cardiometabolic risk factors. The use of polygenic risk scores provides new avenues for investigating the role of genetics in health behaviors and susceptibility to diseases.


The study participants were individuals aged 19 to 100 from the Trøndelag Health Study in Norway, which has collected data on lifestyle, environmental factors, clinical measurements, and biological samples over 35 years.

The research is part of the GenActive project, funded by the Academy of Finland, the Juho Vainio Foundation, and the Päivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundations. The project, led by Associate Professor Elina Sillanpää, aims to deepen understanding of the genetic factors influencing physical activity and health. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Gerontology Research Center (GEREC), the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. GEREC, a research center associated with the universities of Jyväskylä and Tampere, contributes to aging research and strengthens expertise in the field.



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