Your individual genetics can affect your weight in multiple ways. Some people are predisposed to gain weight despite eating a healthy diet and maintaining healthy habits. They may naturally produce less of a hormone that helps regulate metabolic processes, or they may have a genetic variant that interferes with the brain’s ability to tell when they’re full.

The good news is, even if your DNA makes you more susceptible to weight gain (or regain), a new study shows you can counteract these genetic effects through physical activity. Researchers from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the University of Copenhagen conducted a meta-analysis of 60 previous genetic studies to determine how physical activity and weight-related genetic variants work together to influence weight.

The study looked at genetic information from more than 200,000 adults, about 77% of whom were categorized as physically active. Researchers looked at health data associated with obesity, such as waist circumference, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio. The individuals were screened for 2.5 million genetic variants, several related to the FTO gene, which plays a role in eating behaviors and energy balance.

Several variants of the FTO gene are associated with obesity and increased BMI in certain ethnic groups. One variant affects about 42 percent of caucasians. Despite also being found in Asians and Africans, it doesn’t appear to affect them. Two other variants affect Africans and Asians.

People with these FTO variants are more likely to overeat due to a lack of satiety (a feeling of fullness). This can lead them to eat larger portions, eat foods that are higher in calories, continuing to eat after finishing a meal, and snack more often.

Researchers found that physical activity can reduce the weight-gaining effects of these eating behaviors by about 30 percent, confirming other studies that determined physical activity could reduce the effects of the FTO gene. It’s unclear, however, exactly why this is — physical activity could affect the FTO gene itself, or it could have an impact on other genes related to obesity. To conduct a more thorough analysis, researchers would have to examine larger groups of participants using more precise measurements.

These findings indicate that regular physical activity plays an important role in weight management among individuals who are genetically predisposed to gain weight. Exercise could be the key for people who have difficulty keeping weight off.

Individuals who carry the FTO variants should pay attention to portion size and choosing healthy foods, and may want to re-evaluate the amount of fat and protein in their diet. Research suggests that people who carry one copy of the variant lose weight more effectively on a low-fat diet, while people with two copies of the variant do best on a low-fat diet that is also high in protein. People who don’t carry the risk variant may do best on a low-protein diet.

You can find out if you carry any of the FTO risk variants by ordering your personalized genetic report from Vivaliti DNA. Your 49-page report reveals several genetic factors related to weight, as well as your ideal matching diet, risks of nutritional deficiencies, and other information about how your body responds to certain foods and activities. Order your genetic test now!