Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: A heartfelt legacy from long-lived parents

Heart Beat

A heartfelt legacy from long-lived parents

If one or both of your parents lived to age 85 or beyond, you may have inherited a genetic gift with a cardiovascular wrapping. According to a report from the Framingham Heart Study, individuals with long-lived parents tend to enter middle age with better blood pressure and cholesterol and fewer other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Among the 40-somethings in the study, Framingham risk scores (an estimate of cardiovascular risk) were barely one-third as high in those with two long-lived parents as in those with none. Children of one long-lived parent had scores in the middle, suggesting there might be a "dose effect." Over 12 years of follow-up, the gradual escalation of heart disease risk factors was slower in children of one long-lived parent and slowest in those with two.

While other work has connected heredity to longevity, this multigenerational study links some of the effect to early heart protection.

Don't despair if your parents didn't live beyond their mid-80s. Blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight, and other contributors to heart health aren't puppets controlled rigidly by genes. Your choices influence them, too. With a healthy lifestyle and attention to the health of your heart and arteries, you can have the same risk profile as someone whose parents lived very long lives.

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