Behavior Genetics

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 211–222 | Cite as

Exercise Participation in Adolescents and Their Parents: Evidence for Genetic and Generation Specific Environmental Effects

  • Marleen H. M. De MoorEmail author
  • Gonneke Willemsen
  • Irene Rebollo-Mesa
  • Janine H. Stubbe
  • Eco J. C. De Geus
  • Dorret I. Boomsma


Individual differences in adolescent exercise behavior are to a large extent explained by shared environmental factors. The aim of this study was to explore to what extent this shared environment represents effects of cultural transmission of parents to their offspring, generation specific environmental effects or assortative mating. Survey data on leisure-time exercise behavior were available from 3,525 adolescent twins and their siblings (13–18 years) and 3,138 parents from 1,736 families registered at the Netherlands Twin Registry. Data were also available from 5,471 adult twins, their siblings and spouses similar in age to the parents. Exercise participation (No/Yes, using a cut-off criterion of 4 metabolic equivalents and 60 min weekly) was based on questions on type, frequency and duration of exercise. A model to analyze dichotomous data from twins, siblings and parents including differences in variance decomposition across sex and generation was developed. Data from adult twins and their spouses were used to investigate the causes of assortative mating (correlation between spouses = 0.41, due to phenotypic assortment). The heritability of exercise in the adult generation was estimated at 42%. The shared environment for exercise behavior in adolescents mainly represents generation specific shared environmental influences that seem somewhat more important in explaining familial clustering in girls than in boys (52 versus 41%). A small effect of vertical cultural transmission was found for boys only (3%). The remaining familial clustering for exercise behavior was explained by additive genetic factors (42% in boys and 36% in girls). Future studies on adolescent exercise behavior should focus on identification of the generation specific environmental factors.


Exercise participation Parents Twins Genetic transmission Cultural transmission Assortative mating Adolescence Adulthood 



We acknowledge financial support from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (NWO-904-61-193, NWO-311-60-008, NWO-480-04-004 and NWO-575-25-006, Spinozapremie SPI 56-464-14192) and by NIH DA018673.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marleen H. M. De Moor
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gonneke Willemsen
    • 1
  • Irene Rebollo-Mesa
    • 1
  • Janine H. Stubbe
    • 1
  • Eco J. C. De Geus
    • 1
  • Dorret I. Boomsma
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological PsychologyVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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