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Effectiveness of Exercise
May be Linked to Genetics
By Janice Palmer
Each spring, when the masses decide to get in shape for summer, some people seem to have an easier time of it than others. As it turns out, it may be a matter of genetics.
UConn's School of Allied Health is one of 10 institutions chosen to conduct a large study to determine which genes and genetic variants influence a person's response to resistance training. With a four-year, $430,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Linda Pescatello, an assistant professor and exercise physiologist, is leading the research at UConn. The study, known as "FAMuss", is short for Functional Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms Associated with Human Muscle Size and Strength.
"This is the first systematic study of the interaction between genetic variation and the response to environmental stimuli in normal humans," says Pescatello. "Can we identify through genotype who exercise would work best for? If so, could someone more readily adapt to the training if they were told up-front how effective it would be? And would a person be more likely to stick to it if they knew it was going to pay off for them? These are some of the issues we will be dealing with."
UConn and nine other universities are involved in the exercise component of the research. These exercise sites are coordinated by Paul Thompson, director of preventative cardiology at Hartford Hospital. The genetic analyses are being conducted by the Research Center for Genetic Medicine at Children's Research Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Pescatello's team includes three graduate students, two from allied health and one from kinesiology, as well as several undergraduat es. Over the next several years, the team is recruiting 200 people who will undergo 12 weeks of supervised exercise involving their non-dominant arm. If a participant is left-handed, he or she will exercise their right arm, twice a week for 30 minutes. The goal is to build up the biceps and triceps, while determining muscle strength and size and the person's genes. The findings, says Pescatello, will have implications for health, in terms of sports performance, and for disease, such as the muscle wasting that occurs during aging.
Before the trials begin, each research subject undergoes a battery of tests including a psychological survey. Their muscles and fat are measured, blood samples drawn, and an MRI conducted. When the trial ends, the same tests are conducted again, but the participants are given a choice about taking the psychological survey. If they want to receive information about their genetic profile, they have to take the survey.
"Since adherence and compliance to diet and exercise are often the greatest roadblocks to maintaining or attaining fitness, we hope to use this information as a tool for identifying who exercise works best for," Pescatello says.
Research participants are still needed for the FAMuss study. Pescatello is looking for men and women between the ages of 18 and 39, who have not trained with weights during the last year. Each volunteer will receive financial compensation and a six-month membership to the Center for Health Fitness. For more information, call Kim Kablik at (860) 486-2735.