Yoga and Running - The Best Weapon Against Obesity?

Yoga and Running - The Best Weapon Against Obesity?

A new extensive study released by PLOS analyzed the impact of various forms of exercise on not only obesity but also those with a genetic predisposition for obesity. The result?

Running and yoga appear to be the best possible choices. [1]

Now before you dismiss this conclusion as vapid and oh here we go again with another study, let's analyze why you might want to take this research seriously.

The Study's Nuts and Bolts

Researchers in China analyzed the exercise habits of 18,424 adult subjects relative to their genetics and predisposition to obesity. Five measures of obesity were taken into consideration:

  • BMI, or body mass index
  • Body fat percentage
  • Waist circumference
  • Hip circumference
  • Waist-to-hip ratio

While previous studies have examined the impact of exercise on BMI or general weight loss, this is the first major piece of research that focused more on health measures rather than just BMI.

One result of the study is rather obvious: Regular exercise is a solid tool against obesity for those that are genetically predisposed to gain weight. But beyond this conclusion, it was found that not all forms of exercise are created equal. Why? That's a good question.

A frequent exercise regimen was shown to reduce four out of the five measures of obesity. The only measure that remained about the same was the waist-to-hip ratio.

Keep in mind that forms of exercise were self-reported. This means that the study wasn't simply limiting possibilities to a smaller, more focused group of exercise choices.

18 prominent forms of exercise appeared in the analysis:

  • Jogging (running)
  • Yoga
  • Mountain climbing
  • Walking
  • Exercise walking
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Weight training
  • Badminton
  • Cycling
  • Stretching
  • Table tennis
  • Basketball
  • Tennis
  • Qigong

This is not a comprehensive list. Also, keep in mind the study was performed in China so some of the popular choices may leave you scratching your head.

Six of the reported exercises were shown to mitigate the effects of at least one genetic measure. Of these six, jogging/running stood out as king. It was able to fight back against the impact of three genetic measures: BMI, body fat percentage, and hip circumference.

These six noteworthy forms of exercise were:

  • Running/jogging
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Powerwalking
  • Mountain climbing
  • More animated forms of dancing

When looking at the impact across all five genetic measures, running had the greatest overall impact.

It should be noted that the more a person fit into the "genetically predispositioned to be obese" box, the greater the impact exercise had. This is more an indictment on how unhealthy obesity is if you think about it. After all, researchers were looking at unhealthy measuring sticks beyond just BMI.

The more normal your weight, the less likely exercise will significantly impact and improve your health. The obvious conclusion here is that the bodyweight standards we have set as normal, for the most part, are inherently healthy even without a lot of additional exercise.

I'm not telling you to avoid exercise; far from it. The takeaway from this is straightforward: If you feel you have poor genetics and are "doomed" to remain obese, it's even more important that you exercise.

Of the 18,424 participants, only 41.5% reported that they were committed to regular exercise. For those that did exercise, their habits were analyzed extensively:

  • The kinds of exercise
  • Frequency per month of each activity
  • Duration per workout

Each member of the data pool was allowed to provide information on their top three activities. A cross-referencing of forms of exercise was also considered and factored into the study's conclusions.

Digging Deeper

Some activities, such as cycling, stretching, and qigong yielded a smaller degree of energy expenditure than the six most impactful forms noted in the study. Swimming was found to potentially stimulate the appetite to a greater degree, which may counteract some of its obesity-fighting power.

Certain activities lacked a strong enough data pool to provide the best possible results. The conclusion is that more research is needed. These forms of exercise include:

  • Weight training
  • Badminton
  • Table tennis
  • Basketball
  • Tennis

Speaking of conclusions, the findings included this statement:

"To sum up, regular jogging and performing yoga were not only associated with a decrease in obesity measures, but they also attenuated the genetic predisposition to obesity measures." [1]

The other four noteworthy exercise forms were able to assist with the battle against BMI, but they lacked a statistically significant ability to combat the other measures; markers that have been shown to impact health and longevity.

By the process of elimination, only two forms of exercise were found to be competent at reducing BMI and improving the health ramifications of a body that is predisposed to gain fat... Running and yoga.

Botton Line

This study was extensive but not completely conclusive. More research is needed on lesser-used forms of exercise. With that said, what this research did tell us is important.

Running and longer sessions of yoga have value. In fact, if you are struggling with obesity or feel you have awful "fat-fostering" genetics this may be the best possible exercise combination for you.

For the severely obese it is not advised that you simply start running. Running while carrying around a lot of excess weight can be hard on the human body. 

Before attempting a running regimen get your diet in check, do some yoga, and drop a few pounds first. 


1) "Performing Different Kinds of Physical Exercise Differentially Attenuates the Genetic Effects on Obesity Measures: Evidence from 18,424 Taiwan Biobank Participants." PLOS | Public Library Of Science, 1 Aug. 2019,

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