An Extended Twin-Pedigree Study of Different Classes of Voluntary Exercise Behavior

Matthijs D van der Zee, Quinta Helmer, D I Boomsma, C V Dolan, E J C de Geus

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We investigated the familial clustering of different classes of voluntary regular exercise behavior in extended twin-family pedigrees. In contrast to the earlier work based on twin data only, this allowed us to estimate the contributions of shared household effects (C), additive (A), and non-additive (D) genetic effects on voluntary exercise behavior. To test whether shared household effects were inflated by assortative mating we examined the causes of spousal resemblance. For adolescent and adult participants (aged 16 to 65) in the Netherlands Twin Register we constructed 19,543 pedigrees which specified all relations among nuclear family members and larger families in the register (N = 50,690 individuals). Data were available on total weekly MET minutes spent on leisure time exercise, and on total weekly MET minutes spent on exercise activities in team-based, solitary, competitive, non-competitive, externally paced and internally paced exercise. We analyzed the data in the Mendel software package (Lange et al. in Bioinformatics 29(12):1568-1570, 2013) under multiple definitions of household sharing and used data from spouses of twins to test phenotypic assortment, social homogamy, and marital interaction as potential sources of spousal resemblance. Results confirmed the influence of genetic factors on the total volume of weekly exercise behavior throughout the life span. Broad sense heritability ranged from 34 to 41% (19-26% A, 12-21% D), and did not depend on the definition for household sharing. Engaging in team-based, competitive, externally paced activities (e.g., soccer) was ~ 13% more heritable than engaging in non-competitive, solitary activities (e.g., jogging). Having shared a household as siblings explained 4-8% of the variance in adult exercise behavior, whereas sharing a household by spouses yielded higher C estimates (20-24%), as it incorporates spousal resemblance. Spousal resemblance was explained by both social homogamy and marital interaction, with little evidence for phenotypic assortment. We conclude that both the amount of voluntary exercise behavior and the preference for specific classes of exercise activities in adults is explained by additive and non-additive genetic factors and unique environmental influences that include correlated exercise behavior of spouses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-104
Number of pages11
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


Funding was provided by ZonMw (Grant Nos. 904-61-090, 985-10-002, 912-10-020, 904-61-193, 480-04-004, 463-06-001, 451-04-034, 400-05-717, 016-115-035, 481-08-011 and 056-32-010), Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Grant Nos. Addiction-31160008, NWO-Middelgroot-911-09-032, OCW_NWO Gravity program –024.001.003, NWO-Groot 480-15-001/674, NWO-56-464-14192), Centre for Medical Systems Biology (CSMB, NWO Genomics), Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (Grant Nos. 184.021.007, 184.033.111), Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (NL) (Grant No. PAH/6635), European Science Foundation (Grant No. EU/QLRT-2001-01254), FP7 Health (Grant Nos. 01413: ENGAGE, 602768: ACTION), H2020 European Research Council (Grant Nos. ERC AG 230374, ERC SG 284167, ERC CG 771057), National Institutes of Health (Grant No. NIH R01 DK092127-04) and Avera Institute for Human Genetics.

FundersFunder number
Avera Institute for Human Genetics
Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure184.033.111, 184.021.007
National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney DiseasesR01DK092127
H2020 European Research CouncilCG 771057, ERC AG 230374, SG 284167
FP7 Health01413
European Science FoundationEU/QLRT-2001-01254
Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van WetenschappenPAH/6635
ZonMw016-115-035, 480-04-004, 463-06-001, 481-08-011, 904-61-090, 400-05-717, 451-04-034, 056-32-010, 904-61-193, 985-10-002, 912-10-020
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek024.001.003, NWO-Middelgroot-911-09-032, NWO-56-464-14192
Centre for Medical Systems Biology

    Cohort Studies

    • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


    Dive into the research topics of 'An Extended Twin-Pedigree Study of Different Classes of Voluntary Exercise Behavior'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this