Exercise not working? It might be your genes…

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Released: Thursday, May 18, 2006

BATON ROUGE – With the help of a new grant, researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center hope to find specific genes that affect a person’s response to regular exercise.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Drs. Claude Bouchard and Tuomo Rankinen and their research team at the Center five more years of funding for The HERITAGE Family Study, worth approximately $3.5 million. The award will enable Dr. Bouchard and his teams to hunt for specific genes that accentuate the benefits of regular exercise.

Since its conception in 1992, the HERITAGE Family Study has explored many factors associated with exercise and a person’s genetic make-up, allowing scientists to discover if genes affect the results of a regular exercise routine.

“This long-term study has provided a wealth of knowledge on how we respond to exercise and how our bodies adapt to it,” Bouchard said, “We have also gained invaluable insight into the role of inheritance in the magnitude of the gains observed in response to regular exercise.”

During the first phase of the study, begun nearly 15 years ago at four centers in the U.S. (Austin, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and St. Louis) and one in Canada (Quebec City), the investigators recruited 742 healthy, but sedentary subjects and compared the results of a long-term exercise program. Participants undergoing similar exercise routines saw different results. The second phase of the study began to explore both genetic and non-genetic reasons for those differences in responses to exercise, including changes in cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Researchers began to determine some results were linked to genetic differences. In phase three, scientists searched for specific genes that might affect exercise capacity and risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Results from The HERITAGE Family Study have been significant and have already made world-wide news: some people simply respond better to exercise. They have lower heart rates, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, better response to insulin and a host of other positive responses. Others who exercise the same amount simply don’t get all the benefits, and it appears to be in the genes.

The new funding will allow researchers to identify some of the specific genes or mutations that directly affect a person’s biological response – or lack of response - to regular physical activity.

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts both clinical and basic research. It is the largest academically based nutrition research center in the world, with the greatest number of obesity researchers on faculty. The Center's nearly 600 employees occupy several buildings on the 234-acre campus.


The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. It is a campus of Louisiana State University and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 44 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and support personnel, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Pennington Biomedical's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 222-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.