Behavior Genetics

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 45–55 | Cite as

A Twin-Sibling Study on the Relationship Between Exercise Attitudes and Exercise Behavior

  • Charlotte HuppertzEmail author
  • Meike Bartels
  • Iris E. Jansen
  • Dorret I. Boomsma
  • Gonneke Willemsen
  • Marleen H. M. de Moor
  • Eco J. C. de Geus
Original Research


Social cognitive models of health behavior propose that individual differences in leisure time exercise behavior are influenced by the attitudes towards exercise. At the same time, large scale twin-family studies show a significant influence of genetic factors on regular exercise behavior. This twin–sibling study aimed to unite these findings by demonstrating that exercise attitudes can be heritable themselves. Secondly, the genetic and environmental cross-trait correlations and the monozygotic (MZ) twin intrapair differences model were used to test whether the association between exercise attitudes and exercise behavior can be causal. Survey data were obtained from 5,095 twins and siblings (18–50 years). A genetic contribution was found for exercise behavior (50 % in males, 43 % in females) and for the six exercise attitude components derived from principal component analysis: perceived benefits (21, 27 %), lack of skills, support and/or resources (45, 48 %), time constraints (25, 30 %), lack of energy (34, 44 %), lack of enjoyment (47, 44 %), and embarrassment (42, 49 %). These components were predictive of leisure time exercise behavior (R² = 28 %). Bivariate modeling further showed that all the genetic (0.36 < |rA| < 0.80) and all but two unique environmental (0.00 < |rE| < 0.27) correlations between exercise attitudes and exercise behavior were significantly different from zero, which is a necessary condition for the existence of a causal effect driving the association. The correlations between the MZ twins’ difference scores were in line with this finding. It is concluded that exercise attitudes and exercise behavior are heritable, that attitudes and behavior are partly correlated through pleiotropic genetic effects, but that the data are compatible with a causal association between exercise attitudes and behavior.


Twin-sibling design Twins Correlational approach Physical activity Heritability 



We would like to acknowledge the help of Conor Dolan with the genetic model fitting procedures. This study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK, RO1DK092127), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, RO1MH58799-03), the European Research Council (ERC-230374), and the Netherlands Institute for Scientific Research (NWO): Resolving cause and effect in the association between regular exercise and psychological well-being (NWO 904-61-193), the twin-family database for behavior genetics and genomics studies (NWO 480-04-004), and the Spinozapremie (NWO SPI-56-464). De Moor is financially supported by NWO VENI 016-115-035.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The authors have full control of all primary data and they agree to allow the journal to review their data if requested.

Supplementary material

10519_2013_9617_MOESM1_ESM.doc (137 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 137 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charlotte Huppertz
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Meike Bartels
    • 1
    • 2
  • Iris E. Jansen
    • 1
  • Dorret I. Boomsma
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gonneke Willemsen
    • 1
  • Marleen H. M. de Moor
    • 1
  • Eco J. C. de Geus
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological PsychologyVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care ResearchVU University Medical CenterAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Biological PsychologyVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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