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Why some people need more exercise than others to see equal results

Have you ever felt like it’s more difficult for you to lose weight from exercising than it is for other people? You may just be right, says a new study, and the answer lies in your genes.

There’s nothing more frustrating than going on the same diet and exercise program as a friend or spouse, only to watch them drop jeans sizes weekly while you see hardly any improvement. It can be easy for others to say you’re just not dieting correctly or working out hard enough. But there may be a legit reason for your stubborn fat when it comes to exercise, say researchers from Lund University. And it all has to do with how well your body controls your blood sugar.

More: How to prevent heart disease and diabetes

Scientists rounded up 50 healthy adults and divided them into two groups. The first group had a gene that predisposes them to diabetes and makes it harder to control blood sugar (even though they were not diabetic and had a healthy blood sugar at the time of the study). The second group did not have this gene. All the subjects then did a seven-month fitness program where they were offered three workouts of equal difficulty per week. During the study, the researchers tracked their glucose levels and did muscle biopsies while monitoring their overall health.

The fitness program was successful for all 50 people. All the participants lost weight, shrunk their waist size and increased their fitness — but those with the genetic predisposition had to exercise three times more to get the same results.

These findings are important as the National Institutes of Health estimates that 79 million adults are at risk for diabetes and some of those surely have the gene (although without genetic testing it’s impossible to say how many). Yet environmental factors can have just as big, if not bigger, of an impact than your genes, and it’s known that exercise can greatly reduce this risk and improve blood sugar control in healthy people. This creates a health catch-22 where the people who need fitness the most have the hardest time doing it.

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But before you get discouraged and chuck your gym membership, the researchers say the real message of the study is that the fitness program did work for all the subjects, eventually. Even better, they noted that exercise changed each person’s epigenetics — the way the gene is expressed — making it possible that the gene could be ameliorated or turned off by hitting the gym. So, instead of seeing the situation as you having to work harder than everyone else, they say to see it as an opportunity to fix the genetic hand life dealt you.

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