We know that a range of factors influence weight, including those related to lifestyle and genetics, but researchers have now identified six specific exercises that seem to offer the best chance of keeping your weight down – even if your genes don't want you to.
Based on an analysis of 18,424 Han Chinese adults in Taiwan, aged between 30 and 70 years old, the best ways of reducing body mass index (BMI) in individuals predisposed to obesity are: regular jogging, mountain climbing, walking, power walking, dancing (to an "international standard"), and lengthy yoga practices.
But interestingly, many popular exercise types weren't shown to do much good for those who's genetic risk score makes them more likely to be obese.
Specifically, exercises including cycling, stretching, swimming and legendary console game Dance Dance Revolution don't appear to be able to counteract genetic bias (though are beneficial in many other ways).
"Our findings show that the genetic effects on obesity measures can be decreased to various extents by performing different kinds of exercise," write the researchers in their paper published in PLOS Genetics in August 2019.
"The benefits of regular physical exercise are more impactful in subjects who are more predisposed to obesity."
Besides BMI, the team also looked at four other obesity measures for a more complete picture: body fat percentage (BFP), waist circumference (WC), hip circumference (HC), and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR).
Regular jogging – 30 minutes, three times a week – turned out to be the most effective way of counteracting obesity genes across all of them.
The researchers also suggest, based on the information dug up in the Taiwan BioBank database, that the less effective forms of exercise typically don't use up as much energy, which is why they don't work quite so well.
The researchers specifically noted that activities in cold water, such as swimming, could make people hungrier and cause them to eat more.
The study was able to succeed in one of its main aims, which was to show that having a genetic disposition towards obesity doesn't mean that obesity is inevitable – the right type of exercise, carried out regularly, can fight back against that built-in genetic coding.
"Obesity is caused by genetics, lifestyle factors, and the interplay between them," epidemiologist Wan-Yu Lin, from the National Taiwan University, told Newsweek. "While hereditary materials are inborn, lifestyle factors can be determined by oneself."
It's worth noting that not every type of exercise was popular enough within the sample population to be included: activities like weight training, table tennis, badminton or basketball may or may not be helpful, too. There wasn't enough data to assess.
But with obesity numbers rising sharply across the world – and 13 percent of the global population now thought to quality as being obese – it's clear that measures need to be taken to reverse the trend.
Being obese affects our physiological health in the way it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and other issues; and there's evidence that being seriously overweight can have a negative effect on our brains too.
Studies like this latest one can point towards ways of sticking at a healthy weight, even when the genetic cards are stacked against it. In some cases all it takes is a few minutes of exertion per day.
"Previous studies have found that performing regular physical exercise could blunt the genetic effects on BMI," conclude the researchers.
"However, few studies have investigated BFP or measures of central obesity. These obesity measures are even more relevant to health than BMI."
The research has been published in PLOS Genetics.
A version of this article was first published in August 2019.