Healthy lifestyle may ease genetic risk for heart disease

Research we're watching

Published: January, 2017

Healthy habits can cut your risk of heart disease in half, even if your genes are stacked against you, according to new research.

The report, published online Nov. 13, 2016, by The New England Journal of Medicine, used data from more than 55,000 people from four separate studies. Researchers analyzed each person's genetic propensity for heart disease based on 50 gene variants known to raise cardiovascular risk. They also ranked each person based on four lifestyle habits: not smoking, not being obese (having a body mass index less than 30), exercising at least once a week, and following a healthy diet at least half of the time.

People with the highest genetic risk scores had nearly twice the risk of having a heart attack or a related problem as those with low scores. But people who had three or four of the healthy lifestyle habits cut their risk in half, compared with people who had none or just one of the habits, the researchers found. On the flip side, unhealthy habits seem to undo the advantages of good genes.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.