Abstract Background Physical activity is beneficial in reducing the weight gain and associated health problems often experienced by individuals as they age, but the association of weight change with physical activity remains complex. We tested for a possible genetic basis for this association between 9-12-week body weight change (WTC) and the distance, duration, and speed voluntarily run by 307 mice in an F2 population produced from an intercross of two inbred strains (C57L/J and C3H/HeJ) that differed dramatically in their physical activity levels. Results In this population WTC did show the expected negative association with the physical activity traits, but only the phenotypic correlation of WTC with speed (-0.18) reached statistical significance. Using an interval mapping approach with single-nucleotide polymorphism markers, we discovered five (four suggestive and one significant) quantitative trait loci (QTLs) affecting body weight change, only one of which appeared to show pleiotropic effects on the physical activity traits as well. Genome-wide epistasis scans also detected several pairwise interactions of QTLs with pleiotropic effects on WTC and the physical activity traits, but these effects made a significant contribution (51%) only to the covariance of WTC with speed. Conclusion It was concluded that the genetic contribution to the phenotypic association between WTC and the physical activity traits in this population of mice was primarily epistatic in origin, restricted to one measure of physical activity, and could be quite variable among different populations depending on the genetic background, experimental design and traits assessed.