Background: Twin and family studies that estimated the heritability of daily physical activity have been limited by poor measurement quality and a small sample size.
Objective: We examined the heritability of daily physical activity and sedentary behavior assessed objectively by using combined heart rate and movement sensing in a large twin study.
Design: Physical activity traits were assessed in daily life for a mean (±SD) 6.7 ± 1.1 d in 1654 twins from 420 monozygotic and 352 dizygotic same-sex twin pairs aged 56.3 ± 10.4 y with body mass index (in kg/m2) of 26.1 ± 4.8. We estimated the average daily movement, physical activity energy expenditure, and time spent in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity and sedentary behavior from heart rate and acceleration data. We used structural equation modeling to examine the contribution of additive genetic, shared environmental, and unique environmental factors to between-individual variation in traits.
Results: Additive genetic factors (ie, heritability) explained 47% of the variance in physical activity energy expenditure (95% CI: 23%, 53%) and time spent in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (95% CI: 29%, 54%), 35% of the variance in acceleration of the trunk (95% CI: 0%, 44%), and 31% of the variance in the time spent in sedentary behavior (95% CI: 9%, 51%). The remaining variance was predominantly explained by unique environmental factors and random error, whereas shared environmental factors played only a marginal role for all traits with a range of 0–15%.
Conclusions: The between-individual variation in daily physical activity and sedentary behavior is mainly a result of environmental influences. Nevertheless, genetic factors explain up to one-half of the variance, suggesting that innate biological processes may be driving some of our daily physical activity.