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Front Physiol. 2019 Nov 14;10:1401. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01401. eCollection 2019.

Evaluating Individual Level Responses to Exercise for Health Outcomes in Overweight or Obese Adults.

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Duke University Medical Center, Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, Durham, NC, United States.
Division of Cardiology, School of Medicine, Duke University, Durham, NC, United States.
Urbaniak Sports Sciences Institute, School of Medicine, Duke University, Durham, NC, United States.



Understanding group responses to a given exercise exposure is becoming better developed; however, understanding of individual responses to specific exercise exposures is significantly underdeveloped and must advance before personalized exercise medicine can become a functional reality. Herein, utilizing data from the STRRIDE studies, we address some of the key issues surrounding our efforts to develop better understanding of individual exercise responsiveness.


We assessed individual cardiometabolic and cardiorespiratory fitness responses in subjects successfully completing STRRIDE I (n = 227) and STRRIDE II (n = 155). Subjects were previously sedentary, overweight or obese men and women with mild-to-moderate dyslipidemia. Subjects were randomized to either an inactive control group or to an exercise training program. Training groups varied to test the differential effects of exercise amount, intensity, and mode on cardiometabolic health outcomes. Measures included fasting plasma glucose, insulin, and lipids; blood pressure, minimal waist circumference, visceral adipose tissue, and peak VO2. Absolute change scores were calculated for each subject as post-intervention minus pre-intervention values in order to evaluate the heterogeneity of health factor responsiveness to exercise training.


For subjects completing one of the aerobic training programs, change in peak VO2 ranged from a loss of 37% to a gain of 77%. When ranked by magnitude of change, we observed discordant responses among changes in peak VO2 with changes in visceral adipose tissue, HDL-C, triglycerides, and fasting plasma insulin. There was also not a clear, direct relationship observed between magnitudes of individual response in the aforementioned variables with aerobic training adherence levels. This same pattern of highly variable and discordant responses was displayed even when considering subjects with adherence levels greater than 70%.


Our findings illustrate the unclear relationship between magnitude of individual response for a given outcome with training adherence and specific exercise exposure. These discordant and heterogeneous responses highlight the difficult nature of developing understanding for how individuals will respond to any given exposure. Further investigation into the biological, physiological, and genetics factors affecting individual responsiveness is vital to making personalized exercise medicine a reality.


cardiovascular health; exercise prescription; individual variation; lifestyle medicine; precision medicine; training response

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