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

April 9, 2018, Stanford University Medical Center
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

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.

In one of the largest observational studies on and , researchers examined data collected from nearly a half-million people in the UK Biobank database. They found that people with higher levels of grip strength, physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness had reduced risks of attacks and stroke, even if they had a genetic predisposition for heart disease.

"People should not just give up on exercise because they have a high for heart disease," said Erik Ingelsson, MD, PhD, professor of cardiovascular medicine. "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."

A paper describing the research will be published online April 9 in Circulation. Ingelsson is the senior author. The lead author is Emmi Tikkanen, PhD, a former postdoctoral scholar at Stanford who is now senior data scientist at Nightingale Health Ltd. in Finland.

Grip tests, accelerometers and more

To determine the fitness and activity levels of participants, researchers used data previously collected from 482,702 participants who underwent grip-strength tests correlating with overall body strength; answered questions about their levels of physical activity; wore accelerometers on their wrists for seven days; and took stationary-cycling tests. Genetic data from 468,095 of the participants was also used in the study.

Researchers found across the board that higher levels of fitness and were associated with lower levels of several negative cardiovascular outcomes, including , stroke and .

Among those considered at high genetic risk for heart disease, high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with a 49 percent lower risk for coronary heart disease and a 60 percent lower risk for atrial fibrillation compared with study participants with low .

For participants deemed at intermediate genetic risk for cardiovascular diseases, those with the strongest grips were 36 percent less likely to develop and had a 46 percent reduction in their risk for atrial fibrillation compared with study participants who had the same genetic risk and the weakest grips. Researchers determined various levels of genetic risk according to measurements based on discoveries from genomewide association studies, the most common study design to discover genetic variation associated with disease.

'It can make a difference'

Given little has been known about the risk-modifying effects of exercise in individuals with increased genetic risk of cardiovascular disease, these results could have important ramifications for public health, the study said.

"This is important because of how we advise our patients," Ingelsson said. "It's basically indicating that you can make some lifestyle changes, be more physically active and it can make a difference to your long-term health."

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

Related Stories

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.

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.

Multi-gene test predicts early heart disease risk

January 8, 2018
A risk score based on multiple genetic differences, or polygenic risk score, predicted significantly more cases of early-onset heart disease than standard tests for single genetic defects, according to new research in the ...

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 ...

Genetic predisposition to higher calcium levels linked with increased risk of coronary artery disease

July 25, 2017
A genetic predisposition to higher blood calcium levels was associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack, according to a study published by JAMA.

Early 'full-term' babies may have poorer respiratory fitness through adolescence and young adulthood

September 27, 2017
Babies born early in a full-term pregnancy range may be more likely to have poor cardiorespiratory fitness through adolescence and young adulthood, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association, the ...

Recommended for you

New model suggests cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitoring possible using pulse waves

October 16, 2018
A large team of researchers from several institutions in China and the U.S. has developed a model that suggests it should be possible to create a cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitor based on measuring pulse waves. ...

Why heart contractions are weaker in those with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

October 16, 2018
When a young athlete suddenly dies of a heart attack, chances are high that they suffer from familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Itis the most common genetic heart disease in the US and affects an estimated 1 in 500 ...

Novel genetic study sheds new light on risk of heart attack

October 12, 2018
Loss of a protein that regulates mitochondrial function can greatly increase the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), Vanderbilt scientists reported Oct. 3 in the journal eLife.

Researchers say ritual for orthodox Jewish men may offer heart benefits

October 11, 2018
A pilot study led by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine suggests Jewish men who practice wearing tefillin, which involves the tight wrapping of an arm with leather banding as part of daily ...

Markers of dairy fat consumption linked to lower risk of type two diabetes

October 10, 2018
Higher levels of biomarkers of dairy fat consumption are associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to new research published today in PLOS Medicine. The study, in more than 60,000 adults, was undertaken ...

Seed oils are best for LDL cholesterol

October 9, 2018
If you want to lower your low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, called LDL or, colloquially, "bad cholesterol," the research is clear about one thing: You should exchange saturated fats with unsaturated fat. If you want to ...

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.