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VO2 max – the maximum rate of oxygen a person can consume during exercise – is a robust predictor of a person’s risk for chronic diseases and death. Exercise increases VO2 max, but how well a person responds to exercise training varies considerably and may be influenced by genetics. A 2017 systematic review identified nearly 100 genes that likely influence a person’s VO2 max response to exercise training.

Researchers reviewed 35 studies investigating genetic variants in the context of supervised aerobic exercise interventions aimed at improving VO2 max. The studies were based on DNA samples from more than 4,200 people of varied genetic makeup.

The researchers' analysis identified 97 genes that might influence a person’s VO2 max response to exercise training by modulating muscle function and efficiency, electrolyte balance, lipid metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation, energy production, and oxygen delivery. They found that people who responded more favorably to exercise training tended to have more positive response alleles – genetic variants associated with a more favorable or beneficial response to exercise training – in those genes.

These findings highlight the influence of specific genetic variants on a person’s response to exercise training and their effect on VO2 max improvements. However, the authors cautioned that while most of the articles reviewed in their analysis primarily investigated a single or a limited number of candidate genes or markers, exercise-related traits are intricate and influenced by multiple genes working in concert. Learn how Tabata, a type of HIIT, increases VO2 max in this clip featuring Dr. Martin Gibala.

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