The Sporty Gene and the Lazy Gene

Is your kid the sporty type or the lazy type? It might be encoded in your children’s genes and perhaps even in yours. Some kids find it indeed hard to get off the sofa whilst others just can’t help being active, always ready to hit the play ground. Has your kids PE teacher complained that your child was always hard to motivate in sports? It could be due to a pure dislike for sports or it could be genetic. It could also be learned: lazy parents breed lazy children – so try your best not to project this image as your children might follow, or rather sit, in your footsteps.


So many adults detest the thought of vigorous exercise despite the fact well published health benefits of being active. And the number of couch potatoes and the rate of obesity are rising – this clearly attests to the fact that genes do not paint the entire picture. We are products of our society, seduced by the many consumer goods which affect our lifestyle in negative ways (think of fast foods and video games).

So what about the sporty type & the lazy type?

Until now, however, most genetic DNA testing studies on the lazy gene have been carried out on mice and centered on a study carried out by the University of North Carolina. Timothy Lightfoot, a kinesiologist from the University in questions, who has pioneered the study, suggests through his findings that we may be predisposed to being inert and lazy.

The mice chosen for the study were targeted depending on their activity levels. Rather than having an extra gene however, it appears that the absence of an activity promoting gene that controls AMP-activated Protein Kinase (AMPK gene) production may be linked to lower levels of activity. By deactivating this gene, researchers noticed diminished activity levels in mice tested. AMP-activated Protein Kinase is a gene which codes for the production of sugars which are in turn needed for muscular activity. They managed to single out a number of genes that had a direct influence on activity in mice. Mice that did not have the activity-encouraging genes would find ways of avoiding activity and maintain their sedentary habits.

Energy Production and the Human Cell

Energy needed for the cells to function come from cell organelles known as mitochondria. The human cell has thousands of these energy producing organelles. Studies have also shown the number of mitochondria increases with increased exercise activities. Interestingly, the number of mitochondria in mice which had had their AMPK gene deactivated was significantly less. This, researchers suggest, shows a link between our levels of activity, the expression of our AMPK gene and the number of mitochondria in the cell.


Do not forget that children learn from their parents and from their peers. So being sporty could be a learned behaviour as well as a genetic one, or perhaps a combination of both. Studies on professional athletes have brought to light very specific genes that make one sporty but there is still a long way to go. Ideally, any child should be encouraged and motivated to get moving.  You need to give your kids the idea that they can do it: get involved yourself as a parent, challenge them and praise them. No DNA test can accurately predict whether your child will be a world champion or not – perhaps in the distant future, but not for now. We might, in future, have a genetic predisposition DNA test to assess laziness.

The Problem with Genetic Studies

Whatever you read about sporty genes or lazy genes are only the results of preliminary studies. Some companies are actually offering DNA tests for children to help parents know if they have sporty kids or not. Experts and psychologists warn against these, not only because we still know too little on a genetic level, but because they may lead to overzealous parents pushing their children to extremes or at the other extreme to discourage them from doing any sports because they “do not have the gene”.

Although there seem to be genes linked to laziness and likely there are, we must keep in mind the psychological impact of these studies. Philosophers and psychologists have often brought up the issue of genetic determinism; this means that people begin to see and accept they are as a result of their genes. They may turn their genes into a justification for the way they are; “I cannot help being lazy, it’s in my genes”. They often exclude the importance of habits, lifestyle and the environment and the fact that their genes are only a part of who they are. They become resistant to change and aversive to those changes that could help them improve their life and health.


Karl M McDonald is a free lance writer specializing in the field of genetics and DNA testing. Articles by the author can be found on many blogs and info sites, including the article knowledge base for homeDNAdirect. Karl M McDonald currently lives in West Sussex, UK with his wife, kids and 2 dogs.

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