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You Can Overcome a Genetic Predisposition to Heart Disease

You Can Overcome a Genetic Predisposition to Heart Disease

Healthy eating and regular exercise can help you live longer.

The 2007 Nova episode, The Ghost in Your Genes, delivered big news: Your DNA contains chemical markers that allow genes to be turned on and off, meaning at least for some inherited characteristics, you’re not condemned to their pre-programmed influence. That was dubbed epigenetics and it’s now widely acknowledged that a person’s lifestyle choices can turn off some harmful predispositions for health problems. The opposite is true too. You can cause genetic switches to get thrown that create health problems and then pass those problems on to future generations.

In one study on the power of smart lifestyle choices to dismiss genetically-predisposed health problems, researchers looked at data from almost half a million men and women who didn’t have current heart problems, but who had a family or genetic history of heart disease. The researchers found regular exercise (we say that’s 10,000 steps a day, plus two days a week of strength training and a minimum of 150 minutes a week of aerobics, all of which you can track on the Sharecare app for iOS and Android) lowered participants’ risk for heart problems.

A strong grip lowered participants’ risk of coronary heart disease by 36 percent and of atrial fibrillation by 46 percent. Furthermore, high fitness levels were linked to a 49 percent lower risk for coronary heart disease and a 60 percent lower risk for atrial fibrillation.

So, if your relatives had heart troubles, start an exercise regimen (with your doctor’s approval), upgrade your diet so it includes plenty of greens and veggies and eliminate highly-processed foods, red meats and added sugars.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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