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DALLAS — If you’ve thought that there’s nothing you can do to fight your genetic predisposition to certain conditions, think again. A new study finds that a person’s risk for heart disease decreases the more they exercise — even if it runs in their family.

Many heart conditions are passed down from generation to generation, but a team of scientists at Stanford University and Uppsala University in Sweden found that exercise helps prevent serious heart disease in people regardless of genetic predisposition.

Stethoscope, health, doctor
A new study finds that a person’s risk for heart disease decreases the more they exercise — even if it runs in their family.

The researchers examined data from 482,702 individuals between ages 40 and 69 included in the United Kingdom’s Biobank database, a research service that collects health data from participants, including their genetic predisposition for various diseases. Participants reported exercise regimens while researchers assessed their grip strength, cardiovascular endurance, and other physical factors.

Nearly 21,000 of the participants reported suffering from heart conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

The researchers concluded that greater grip strength, increased physical activity, and better cardiovascular fitness were all associated to lowering risk of serious heart complications, even in those with genetic risk factors for heart disease. Those with a moderate risk of cardiovascular diseases and the strongest grips were 36% less likely to develop coronary heart disease and 46% less likely to develop atrial fibrillation than those in the study with the weakest grips.

As for individuals who have a high genetic risk for cardiovascular diseases, regular exercise, particularly aerobic fitness plans, led to a 49 percent lower risk for coronary heart disease and a 60 percent lower risk for atrial fibrillation compared to those who reported lower cardiorespiratory fitness levels.

“The main message of this study is that being physically active is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, even if you have a high genetic risk,” explains lead author Dr. Erik Ingelsson, a professor of medicine at Stanford, in an American Heart Association news release.

Dr. Inglesson is quick to offer caveats to the study. Since it was an observational study, he can’t recommend any particular type of exercise to those with a family history heart disease

“It would be best to discuss a physical activity plan with a physician,” he says.

Factors including age, gender, ethnicity, region, socioeconomic status, diabetes, smoking, systolic blood pressure, body mass index and use of lipid medications were all considered by the authors when calculating their findings.

The full study was published April 9, 2018 in the journal Circulation.

About Ben Renner

Writer, editor, curator, and social media manager based in Denver, Colorado. View my writing at

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