As most people have begun or at least contemplated taking on their new year’s resolutions, gyms have become more crowded with those who decide to take on fitness-related improvements to their lives. Recent research has identified an interesting element to the New Year’s start and stop pattern. Most will maintain participation for 5-6 weeks, the next attrition period occurs at 12 weeks and the rest fade by May. So why do so many who clearly desire to improve their health fail? Is it boredom, lack of motivation or knowledge, or a lack of desire to deal with the discomfort or compromises involved? Or is it something else? It seems genetics influence perception of if a person actually enjoys exercise or not. Specifically, genes that regulate dopamine activity in the brain appear to play a major part in overall motivation for exercise. Dr. Rodney Dishman of the University of Georgia recently presented these findings at the Integrative Biology of Exercise (7) meeting in Phoenix in his talk entitled “Genetics of Exercise Avoidance”.
According to Dishman “Family and twin studies indicate that 20-60% of the variation in human physical activity can be inherited, but the genetic sources of voluntary physical activity are poorly understood.” Overall, he suggests that it is the drive and reward centers of the brain that cause people to engage in physical activity or stick to the sofa. Genes regulating these centers have an impact on your personality and behavior traits such as goal setting and self-regulation (e.g., skipping dessert). Of course, other external factors such as time constraints and access to quality health and fitness facilities also have a part to play in activity levels. A better understanding of how genetics influence physical activity exposure can hopefully help develop new methods for improving compliance through counteractive psycho-physiological measures. In the meantime stick with known motivators such as friends and family, committing to a schedule with others, and social interactive physical activity. Those that feel most engaged in the activities they participate in tend to be most compliant.