Can Genetics Influence Your Leisure Time Physical Activity?

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Can Genetics Influence Your Leisure Time Physical Activity?

Date of Content: May 11, 2024
Written by: Harvey Talento
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD


What is Leisure Time Physical Activity?

Leisure time physical activity refers to physical activities that people engage in during their free time, outside of work, housework, or transportation. It encompasses a wide range of activities such as sports, exercise, and recreational walking.

Leisure time physical activity is distinct from physical activity required for daily living or occupational activities. It is a specialized form of leisure behavior that intentionally aims to improve physical fitness.

Regular leisure time physical activity, defined as engaging in moderate or vigorous physical activity during leisure time at least several times a week, is important for health and well-being, especially as people age. It can help maintain a healthy body weight, prevent chronic diseases, and improve functional and mental health.

However, a substantial proportion of adults, particularly in some aging Asian societies, do not participate in regular leisure-time physical activity. Promoting active lifestyles and increasing leisure time and physical activity participation is a key focus for policymakers and public health professionals in rapidly aging populations.

How Does It Differ From Routine Physical Activity?

Leisure time physical activity differs from routine physical activity in several key ways:

  • Purpose: Leisure time physical activity is performed during free time, outside of work, housework, or transportation, whereas routine physical activity is often performed as part of daily life or occupation.
  • Intensity and Frequency: Leisure time physical activity typically involves moderate or vigorous physical activity performed at least several times a week, whereas routine physical activity can include a broader range of activities, including low-intensity activities like daily chores.
  • Voluntary Nature: Leisure time physical activity is a voluntary activity, whereas routine physical activity is often required for daily living or occupational purposes.
  • Focus on Fitness: Leisure time physical activity is often specifically designed to improve physical fitness, whereas routine physical activity may not have this primary goal.
  • Impact on Health: Both leisure time physical activity and routine physical activity have positive effects on health, but leisure time physical activity is particularly important for maintaining functional and mental health, as well as reducing the risk of chronic diseases, in mid-age and older adults.
  • Correlates: Factors such as age, education, retirement, income, and social satisfaction are positively associated with leisure time and physical activity, whereas self-rated health is negatively associated. These correlates are distinct from those influencing routine physical activity.
  • Participation Rates: Leisure time physical activity participation rates vary significantly across populations, with lower rates observed in some aging Asian societies compared to Western countries.

Benefits of Leisure Time Physical Activity

Leisure time physical activity provides numerous benefits for both physical and mental health:

  • It can improve physical fitness, strength, and flexibility. Regular exercise reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  • Participating in leisure activities helps relax tense emotions, enhance psychological satisfaction, ease the pace of life, and dispel boredom. It significantly reduces depression by increasing positive mood and life balance.
  • Leisure time activities provide opportunities for social interaction, allowing people to strengthen connections with friends, meet new people, and establish interpersonal relationships.
  • Engaging in leisure pursuits helps train problem-solving skills, stimulate potential, boost work achievement, improve self-confidence, and provide a sense of accomplishment. It enhances self-esteem and life satisfaction.
  • Being active during the day leads to better quality sleep at night. Physical activity also helps enhance the immune system and can prevent or manage some chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.
  • Leisure time enables the brain to consolidate and organize information, allowing people to re-energize, recharge, and gain new perspectives. Taking breaks to pursue enjoyable activities can actually boost productivity in the long run.

In summary, incorporating leisure time physical activity into one’s routine is crucial for maintaining good physical and mental health, reducing stress and depression, improving social connections, and enhancing overall quality of life.

How Genetics May Influence Leisure Time Physical Activity

Genomewide Association Studies (GWAS) have identified genetic variants linked to leisure-time exercise behavior. For example, a study in Japanese adults discovered a novel genetic variant (rs10252228) located between the NPSR1 and DPY19L1 genes that significantly influences leisure-time exercise behavior. These findings highlight specific genetic factors that can predispose individuals to be more or less active during their free time. The study also identified other candidate SNPs, such as rs12612420 in DNAPTP6, which has also been discovered in earlier studies, among other SNPs like rs12405556 in the leptin receptor (LEPR) gene,  rs8036270 in GABRG3 and rs10887741 in PAPSS2.

Heritability of Exercise Behavior

Studies on the heritability of exercise behavior indicate that genetic factors play a substantial role in determining how likely individuals are to engage in physical activity. Twin studies have estimated that genetics can account for between 48% and 71% of the variance in exercise behavior among adults. These estimates underscore the significant impact of genetic predisposition on leisure-time physical activity.

Genetic Variation and Gene Expression

Genetic variation can influence gene expression in various tissues, such as skeletal muscle, heart, whole blood, and the nervous system. For example, other single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) linked with rs10252228 were significantly associated with the expression of the mannosyl transferase gene DPY19L1 and its pseudogene DPY19L2P1 in these tissues. Understanding these relationships helps explain how genetic differences can affect physical activity levels.

Non-Genetic Factors Influencing Leisure Time Physical Activity

Aside from genetic factors, several environmental and motivational factors influence leisure time physical activity. These include:

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  • Shared Environmental Influences: Common factors affecting both twins in a pair, such as family dynamics, socioeconomic status, and cultural norms, significantly explain observed changes in leisure time physical activity levels.

Motivational Factors

  • Mastery: Feeling a sense of accomplishment and mastery over physical activities can motivate individuals to engage in leisure time physical activity.
  • Physical Fitness: Higher levels of physical fitness can encourage individuals to maintain leisure time physical activity.
  • Psychological State: A positive psychological state, such as self-esteem and confidence, can also motivate individuals to engage in leisure time physical activity.
  • Intrinsic Motivation: Intrinsic motivation, driven by personal interest and enjoyment, is essential for engagement in leisure time physical activity.

These environmental and motivational factors interact with genetic influences to shape an individual’s leisure time physical activity behavior.

Tips for Incorporating Leisure Time Physical Activity

To incorporate leisure time physical activity effectively, consider the following tips:

  • Motivation: Identify your motivations for engaging in leisure time physical activity. For adults with disabilities, physical health or fitness benefits are significant motivators. For working professionals, incorporating leisure time physical activity can help alleviate stress and improve mental health.
  • Accessibility: Ensure that leisure activities are accessible and inclusive for all. This includes considering the needs of individuals with disabilities and providing opportunities for them to participate in various physical activities.
  • Work-Life Balance: Make time for leisure activities by maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This can involve scheduling leisure activities during non-work hours and prioritizing self-care.
  • Social Support: Engage in leisure activities with friends or family to enhance the experience and maintain social connections. This can also help to create a sense of accountability and motivation.
  • Variety: Incorporate a variety of physical activities into your leisure time to avoid boredom and prevent plateaus. This can include sports, physical recreation, or other forms of exercise.

By incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you can effectively incorporate leisure time physical activity and improve your overall health and well-being.

About the LifeDNA Fitness Report

Understanding your genetic predispositions can help tailor your activities to suit your unique needs, maximizing benefits and enjoyment. By discovering how your body responds to different types of exercise, you can create a personalized fitness plan that keeps you motivated and engaged.

Imagine knowing exactly which activities boost your energy and well-being the most, all based on your DNA. The LifeDNA Fitness Report empowers you with this knowledge, offering a scientific approach to achieving your fitness goals.

Get your report today!


  • Leisure time physical activity (LTPA) refers to physical activities done during free time, distinct from routine physical activity.
  • Regular leisure time physical activity are vital for health, aiding weight management, disease prevention, and enhancing mental well-being.
  • Leisure time physical activity differs from routine physical activity in purpose, intensity, and frequency.
  • Genetic factors influence leisure time physical activity behavior, as seen in GWAS and heritability studies.
  • Genetic variation affects gene expression, impacting physical activity levels.
  • Environmental factors like family dynamics and socioeconomic status influence leisure time physical activity participation.
  • Motivational factors such as mastery and intrinsic motivation drive leisure time physical activity engagement.
  • Tips for effective leisure time physical activity incorporation include identifying motivation, ensuring accessibility, and maintaining work-life balance.
  • Social support and a variety of activities enhance LTPA enjoyment and sustainability.
  • Prioritizing leisure time physical activity improves overall health, reduces stress, enhances social connections, and boosts the quality of life.



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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

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