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We all benefit from exercise, but some of us reap more rewards than others from the same workout. A 2021 study published in Nature Metabolism examines why this may be so — and might also lead to future tests to predict how fit we can get.

“The variability in responses between any two individuals undergoing the very same exercise regimen is actually quite striking,” reports senior study author Robert Gerszten, MD. “For example, some may experience improved endurance, while others will see improved blood-sugar levels.”

To examine exercise’s effects, Gerszten, chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and his team measured the blood levels of some 5,000 proteins in more than 650 sedentary adults before and after a 20-week endurance-exercise program. “We identified proteins that emanate from bone, muscle, and blood vessels that are strongly related to cardiorespiratory fitness and had never been previously associated with exercise training responses,” Gerszten explains. 

They identified 147 proteins to measure baseline VO2 max — the peak rate at which a person is able to consume oxygen — and 102 proteins linked with VO2 max potential. They then created a protein score to gauge an individual’s ultimate “trainability.”

“Baseline levels of several proteins predicted who would respond to the exercise training protocol far better than any of our established patient factors,” says Gerszten.

This study’s scorecard may someday be used to map workout regimens with the most beneficial exercises for an individual — and even to foretell your ultimate fitness potential. 

This article originally appeared as “How Fit Can You Get?” in the December 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Michael Dregni

Michael Dregni is an Experience Life deputy editor.

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