Jogging was the most effective, followed by mountain climbing, power walking, walking, and long yoga sessions.
Other research has suggested exercise in general can help combat the effects of so-called "obesity genes," but this was the first to evaluate 18 different types of exercise.
No matter your genetics or weight, jogging can have health benefits.
If you have a family history of obesity, a good jogging routine might be your best bet to stay healthy, according to a new study.
The study, published Thursday in PLOS Genetics, looked at 18,424 Han Chinese adults who were between 30 to 70 years old. Researchers measured their body mass index, body fat percentage, and waist size, and also collected genetic information via blood samples and asked them about their exercise routines. The researchers also took into account age, gender, and lifestyle factors like smoking and drinking.
Each participant was assessed for genetic risk of obesity based on genes associated with higher BMI. The researchers then looked at 18 kinds of exercise to determine which had the best outcomes for healthy weight among participants with high-risk genes.
They found that people who had a regular routine of jogging were significantly more likely to have healthier BMIs, body fat percentages, and other weight indicators, in spite of their high-risk genes, researchers found. This suggests that jogging allowed them to mitigate the negative impacts of their genetics, along with losing weight.
Yoga had a similar effect, but only when practiced in longer sessions. "Regular jogging and performing yoga were not only associated with a decrease in obesity measures, but they also attenuated the genetic predisposition to obesity measures," the study authors wrote.
Walking, power walking, and mountain climbing were also found to help offset genetic risk factors for obesity.
Cycling, swimming, and stretching weren't helpful in counteracting the effect of obesity genes, according to the study. Neither was the exercise game Dance Dance Revolution. For some exercises, like weight lifting, basketball, and tennis, there wasn't enough data to determine their effect.
The researchers concluded that while jogging and exercise are good for everyone, the people who could benefit most are those with a high genetic risk of obesity.
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Regardless of genetics or weight, running has health benefits
Previous research has suggested that good exercise habits can outweigh the effects of genetics in keeping a trim waistline, but didn't differentiate between types of exercise. And those studies focused solely on BMI, which isn't a good measure of healthy weight for many people because it doesn't account for muscle mass, which is denser than fat.
While it's not clear what exactly it is about jogging that made it stand apart from the other exercises for this population, running has plenty of established benefits for everyone. For instance, it improves your circulation and the amount of oxygen delivered to your muscles, and research has also suggested aerobic exercise in general can improve memory, fight cognitive decline, reduce stress, and lower the risk of dying from any cause, INSIDER previously reported.
"And at the same time, there's also been cognitive and mental health benefits that are shown to be tied to it as well — an improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms that go along with this type of exercise," said Shawn Arent, professor and chair of the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina.
Still, most exercise professionals say the best exercise for you is the one you'll stick with, and research concurs that enjoying your workout predicts how likely you are to keep it up.