A Healthy Lifestyle Can Overcome Genetic Heart Disease Risk

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When it comes to heart attacks, living a healthy lifestyle could trump heredity for those prone to heart disease, a study shows.

After analyzing more than 55,000 people, the research published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that individuals with a history of cardiovascular disease can positively change their heart health destiny. This can be achieved by maintaining a healthy diet and weight, exercising and not smoking

track-meet-79602_1280“We were a little surprised by how much you could offset your inherited risk by adhering to a healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, the study’s chief author. “This is the first study to look at the interplay of both genetics and lifestyle, and how much you could offset your genetic risk with an optimal lifestyle.”

The study examined the section of the population — about 20 percent — with the highest genetic risk. It found they had a 5.1 percent chance of having a heart attack over 10 years if they lived and practiced a healthy lifestyle. The people considered to have the lowest genetic risk, but who lived an unhealthy lifestyle, had a 5.8 percent chance.

People in the study were considered unhealthy if they were obese, didn’t exercise, smoked or didn’t eat a healthy diet.

For the people who were both unhealthy and high at risk — their risk shot up to 10.7 percent.

Researchers say this shows that, while people cannot change their genetic profile, the thing that they can control — their lifestyle — can have a real impact on heart health.

“Many physicians and patients assume if you have a strong inherited risk, you’re destined to have a heart attack; you can’t change the hand that’s dealt to you in terms of genetics,” Dr. Kathiresan said. “But if you adhere to a healthy lifestyle, you can reduce your risk by maybe 50 percent.”

Researchers found, percentage-wise, the specific list of risk factors people can avoid to reduce their chances of a heart attack. Not smoking cuts heart attack risk by 44 percent, not being obese drops it by 33 percent, engaging in regular physical activity and exercise reduces it by 16 percent, and participating in a healthy diet reduces heart attack risk by 9 percent.

Ronke Idowu Reeves

Ronke Idowu Reeves is a writer and journalist who hails from Brooklyn, NY. Her news and entertainment stories have appeared on WABC-TV-New York, Fox News Channel, VH1, BET.com plus in Sundance Film Festival’s Sundance Daily Insider and People Magazine.