People at a high risk for heart disease thanks to a genetic predisposition can still benefit from regular physical activity, a new study finds. Scientists are hoping this information will quickly translate to the doctor-patient relationship, so individuals can understand how lifestyle choices can improve their health regardless of their genetic status.
Researchers from Stanford Medicine conducted an observational study on fitness and heart disease, acquiring data from almost 500,000 people. Participants from the study underwent grip strength tests, answered questions about physical activity habits, wore accelerometers on their wrists for seven days (think about the same technology found in Apple Watches and Fitbits), and took stationary-cycling tests. Researchers also obtained genetic data from most of the participants.
According to Men’s Health, grip strength is vital for lifting power and stamina. Researchers found that people with higher levels of grip strength, physical activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness had lower risks of heart diseases like coronary artery disease, heart attack, atrial fibrillation and stroke, regardless of any genetic predispositions for heart disease.
Specifically, people with a high genetic risk of heart disease who also had high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness had a 49 percent lower risk for coronary artery disease and a 60 percent lower risk of atrial fibrillation compared with others who had a similar genetic risk but lower cardiorespiratory fitness. The decreases in risk were similar although not as significant for participants at an intermediate genetic risk of heart disease.
These results mark an important move forward for understanding the benefits of exercise for individuals with a genetic predisposition for heart disease. Researchers say that the findings are translatable to the clinic, where doctors can counsel patients about both the genetic and lifestyle factors that impact their health.
"People should not just give up on exercise because they have a high genetic risk for heart disease," explained Erik Ingelsson, MD, PhD. "And vice versa: Even if you have a low genetic risk, you should still get exercise. It all ties back to what we have known all along: It's a mix of genes and environment that influence health."
The present study was published in the journal Circulation.