Study: Staying active may reduce heart disease risk despite genetics

April 11 (UPI) — Despite genetic links to heart disease, people can reduce their risk with cardio fitness, according to a study by the American Heart Association.

Based upon an examination of nearly half a million people in Britain, researchers found strength and cardiorespiratory fitness lowered the risk for heart disease regardless of whether they had low, intermediate or high genetic risk.

Their findings were published this week in the journal Circulation.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world. The risk factors for heart disease include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess weight.

The researchers said individualized strength-training and aerobic programs can help people counteract their genetic risk for heart disease.

“Genes don’t have to determine destiny,” lead author Dr. Erik Ingelsson, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, said in an AHA News press release. “You can impact your risk by being more fit.”

They based their conclusions on an analysis of data on 482,702 people from England, Scotland and Wales collected as part of UK Biobank, which tracked participants aged 40-69 years old from 2006 to 2010. During the followup, there were 20,914 reported cardiovascular events, which included heart attacks, strokes, atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

For participants who showed no signs of heart disease, researchers followed them for about a decade, using questionnaires to track activity, exercise and grip strength, among other tests.

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

The researchers analyzed genetic profiles for participants at highest risk for coronary heart disease and atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder often referred to as AFib.

The exercise include greater grip strength, more physical activity and better cardiorespiratory fitness.

They found people at the highest risk cut their coronary heart disease risk by 49 percent and their AFib risk by 60 percent if they had the highest levels of cardiorespiratory fitness. Researchers determined this through oxygen and effort measurements on a stationary bicycle.

In addition, participants with intermediate genetic risk were 36 percent less likely to develop coronary heart disease and 46 percent less likely to develop atrial fibrillation.

“They’ve demonstrated that physical activity and fitness were associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease outcomes across a continuum of persons,” Dr. Russell Pate, a professor in the University of South Carolina’s Department of Exercise Science, said. “For the public, that’s an important message. You can’t eliminate genetic risk, but you can absolutely attenuate the effects.”

Pate served on a committee that writes the federal Physical Activity Guidelines.

He said the research is “added ammunition in making the case that promotion of physical activity deserves a prominent place in public health.”

And added: “We’re in a new era in terms of people being able to know their risk status. We can now provide information at a new and higher level.”

But in an AHA Journal press release, Ingelsson said there isn’t specific type or amount of exercise to recommend. And because the results come from an observational study, “we can’t definitely claim a causal connection.”

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