How often should you exercise? While most health and fitness experts recommend three to four times per week, the ideal workout frequency will vary for everyone depending on goals and certain lifestyle factors. And there’s another factor that plays into the need for regular exercise: genetics. While regular exercise is beneficial for everyone, carriers of certain genetic variants may need to work out more often to keep degenerative diseases at bay.

Variants in several different genes influence how your body responds to different types of exercises. Some people are predisposed to benefit more from strength training, while others may experience enhanced benefits from endurance activities. Your genetics can also increase your risk of certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease, but research shows that adopting healthy lifestyle habits can outweigh that risk.

Regular exercise is a major factor in reducing your risk of disease and increasing lifespan. And in people with an increased genetic risk of disease, exercise may be the key to promoting metabolic changes that are especially beneficial over time. In fact, many of the changes promoted in the body by anti-diabetes medications are the same ones that occur as a result of regular exercise.

Genetic variants associated with metabolic disorders

Several genetic variants predispose carriers to metabolic disorders that increase their risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. People with a common variant of the FADS1 gene tend to have high triglycerides and high blood sugar, and have an increased risk of insulin resistance. This risk variant is particularly high in Native Americans, affecting 90 percent of individuals of Native American descent. It is also found in 50 percent of Hispanics, 41 percent of East Asians, and 36 percent of Caucasians. Individuals who carry this variant have difficulty burning fat efficiently, and are more likely to convert carbs from their diet into excess body fat. These people tend to have lower levels of two important long-chain fatty acids, EPA and AA, which help activate pathways that tell the body when to use fat for energy. Fortunately, exercise also activates these pathways and helps compensate for inefficient fat usage. Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish and fish oil, is also important for these individuals.

A variant of the GCKR gene that is found in about 40 percent of the general population puts carriers at risk of elevated triglycerides and fatty liver disease. The highest frequency of this risk variant is found in East Asians, but it is rarely found in people of African descent. The GCKR gene influences the activity of an enzyme in the liver. Carriers of the GCKR risk variant metabolize glucose more efficiently, which leads to lower blood glucose, but higher triglyceride levels. Some triglycerides are necessary for good health, but continually elevated levels can increase the risk of heart disease. Studies show that the lipid profiles of these individuals can be greatly improved with exercise.

Physical activity also activates a gene known as AMPK, which helps promote the breakdown of fats for energy while also preventing the storage of new fat cells. AMPK also plays a role in clearing glucose from the blood, thereby helping improve insulin sensitivity. In fact, one of the most popular drugs for the treatment of diabetes, Metformin, helps activate AMPK.

Find out if you carry genetic variants that increase your risk of degenerative disease by ordering your personalized DNA report from Vivaliti DNA. We analyze more than 80 genetic markers to give you unprecedented insight into factors that affect your overall health and longevity, including how your body responds to different exercises, how well you absorb certain nutrients, and whether you have an increased risk of metabolic disorders. Order your genetic report now and get started on the path to improved health and wellness!