Video: Exercise trumps genetic risk of heart disease

If you have a family history of heart disease, it can be concerning to think about what might be in your own future and what you can do to change it. But take comfort in the fact there’s no one cause of heart disease. It’s down to a range of factors, and while genetics is one of them, others are modifiable - things like your diet, lifestyle, whether you smoke or drink to excess. And that’s been confirmed in new research showing fitness can drastically reduce your risk of heart disease - even when you have a family history of the disease.

The researchers looked at UK citizens and assessed their health by a range of factors - like their grip strength, self-reported fitness levels (how often and how vigorously they exercised), and cardiorespiratory fitness (how well their body supplies oxygen to the muscles during vigorous exercise) using an exercise bike. They also tracked each person’s physical activity using a wristband fitness device. In all, more than 500,000 people had their activity analysed in the study. Then the researchers separated these people into groups, based on what their genetic code suggested about their risk of heart disease. Finally, they tracked who actually developed heart disease or related heart conditions.

By doing this, the researchers could see what influence fitness had on a person’s risk of heart disease, and how that related to their genetic profile. They found that grip strength, physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness all led to reduced risk of heart disease, even among people who were genetically predisposed to heart disease. For people who were deemed to have a high genetic risk of heart disease, good levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with a 40 per cent lower risk of heart disease.

Implications

This study highlights the importance of a healthy lifestyle in combating heart disease, and is good news for those who might have heart disease in their family. You can reduce your risk, and it can be with something as cost-effective and beneficial as a regular jog around the park. It echoes other studies finding that modifiable lifestyle factors - exercise, diet, smoking - can make a big change in your risk of heart disease.

References

Tikkanen, et al. (2018). Associations of Fitness, Physical Activity, Strength, and Genetic Risk With Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation doi: 10.1161/circulationaha.117.032432.