Exercise could outsmart genetics when it comes to heart disease

April 9, 2018, American Heart Association
Exercise could outsmart genetics when it comes to heart disease
Credit: American Heart Association

Exercise, especially cardio fitness, could outweigh genetics when it comes to heart disease, according to new research.

The study, published Monday in the journal Circulation, showed strength and cardiorespiratory fitness lowered the risk for across the board – whether people were categorized with low, intermediate or high .

"Genes don't have to determine destiny," said Dr. Erik Ingelsson, lead study author and professor of medicine at Stanford University. "You can impact your risk by being more fit."

The study examined 482,702 people in England, Scotland and Wales who participated in the UK Biobank, an international research project that recruited participants between ages 40 and 69 years old from 2006 to 2010. Researchers followed those who didn't have any signs of heart disease for about a decade. They tracked activity and exercise through questionnaires, grip strength measurements and other tests.

"It's was a very consistent pattern for all of these different measures," according to Ingelsson, who said he believes it is the largest such study. "All were associated with lower risk of disease in the future."

Researchers specifically investigated the genetic profiles for those at highest risk for and a called atrial fibrillation, or AFib. Those at the highest risk who also had the highest levels of – conducted through oxygen and effort measurements on a stationary bicycle – cut their coronary by 49 percent and their AFib risk by 60 percent.

The research is important – and timely, said Dr. Russell Pate, a professor in the University of South Carolina's Department of Exercise Science in the Arnold School of Public Health.

"They've demonstrated that physical activity and fitness were associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease outcomes across a continuum of persons," Pate said. "For the public, that's an important message. You can't eliminate genetic risk, but you can absolutely attenuate the effects."

Pate just finished a term on a committee that writes the federal Physical Activity Guidelines. The group's advisory report was released last month and will be the foundation for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' policy recommendations on how physical activity can promote health and reduce the risk of disease. The advisory group's recommendations have a chapter emphasizing the importance of exercise with people who have chronic conditions.

The latest research is "added ammunition in making the case that promotion of deserves a prominent place in public health," Pate said.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world, though there are proven ways to lower risk. People often hear about risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess weight. Now, the expanding field of genetics can provide more information, Pate said.

"We're in a new era in terms of people being able to know their risk status," he said. "We can now provide information at a new and higher level."

Ingelsson and the study authors suggested it could lead to individualized strength-training and aerobic programs to help people counteract their genetic risk for disease.

But one important question to answer, and a potential future area of study, Ingelsson said, is whether that knowledge truly is power. If we know that lifestyle choices like exercise could offset our genetic risk for , how likely are we to start that healthier lifestyle?

Explore further: Physical activity helps fight genetic risk of heart disease, study finds

More information: Emmi Tikkanen et al. Associations of Fitness, Physical Activity, Strength, and Genetic Risk With Cardiovascular Disease: Longitudinal Analyses in the UK Biobank Study, Circulation (2018). DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.032432

Related Stories

Physical activity helps fight genetic risk of heart disease, study finds

April 9, 2018
Keeping fit, even if you're born with a high genetic risk for heart disease, still works to keep your heart healthy, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Teens need vigorous physical activity and fitness to cut heart risk

January 31, 2018
Guidelines for teenagers should stress the importance of vigorous physical activity and fitness to cut the risk of heart disease, new research suggests.

7 signs you'd benefit from a fitness assessment

December 5, 2017
(HealthDay)—You might be excited to begin an exercise program for better health, but for some people, getting a fitness assessment first is the right way to get started.

Physical activity offers greater health benefits to those with naturally low fitness levels

July 7, 2016
The benefits of being physically active are far greater for those who are naturally unfit, according to scientists at The University of Glasgow.

Yoga and aerobic exercise together may improve heart disease risk factors

October 19, 2017
Heart disease patients who practice yoga in addition to aerobic exercise saw twice the reduction in blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol levels when compared to patients who practiced either Indian yoga or aerobic ...

Improving cardiorespiratory fitness reduces risk of arrhythmia recurrence

August 21, 2015
Obese atrial fibrillation patients have a lower chance of arrhythmia recurrence if they have high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, and risk continues to decline as exercise capacity increases as part of treatment, according ...

Recommended for you

Higher risk of heart attack on Christmas Eve

December 12, 2018
The risk of heart attack peaks at around 10pm on Christmas Eve, particularly for older and sicker people, most likely due to heightened emotional stress, finds a Swedish study in this week's Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Your weight history may predict your heart failure risk

December 12, 2018
In a medical records analysis of information gathered on more than 6,000 people, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers conclude that simply asking older adult patients about their weight history at ages 20 and 40 could provide ...

Age is the biggest risk for heart disease, but lifestyle and meds have impact

December 12, 2018
Of all the risk factors for heart disease, age is the strongest predictor of potential trouble.

New understanding of mysterious 'hereditary swelling'

December 12, 2018
For the first time ever, biomedical researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark, report cellular defects that lead to a rare disease, hereditary angioedema (HAE), in which patients experience recurrent episodes of swelling ...

Research team traces pathway to cardioprotection in post-ischemic heart failure

December 11, 2018
During an ischemic attack, the heart is temporarily robbed of its blood supply. The aftermath is devastating: reduced heart contractility, heart cell death, and heart failure. Contributing to these detrimental changes is ...

Macrophage cells key to helping heart repair—and potentially regenerate, new study finds

December 11, 2018
Scientists at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre have identified the type of cell key to helping the heart repair and potentially regenerate following a heart attack.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.