Heart trouble in your family? Exercise may offer protection

In the journals

If heart disease runs in your family, improving your fitness may be a great way to help prevent it, according to a study published online April 9, 2018, by Circulation.

Researchers reviewed data from about 502,000 people, ages 40 to 69, who filled out questionnaires about their current physical activity and family medical history. The researchers also measured the participant daily activity level, grip strength, and cardiovascular fitness.

After six years, the researchers found lower incidents of heart attack and stroke in the people who'd scored the highest in all three categories — physical activity, grip strength, and cardio fitness. Notably, the heart benefit was just as strong among those with a family history of heart disease, and the higher their fitness levels, the greater the benefit.

Among people with an intermediate genetic risk for cardiovascular diseases, those with the strongest grips were 36% less likely to develop heart disease and 46% less likely to develop atrial fibrillation compared with those who had the weakest grips. For those with a strong genetic risk, high cardiovascular fitness had even more significant benefits. It was associated with 49% lower incidence of heart disease and 60% lower incidence of atrial fibrillation, compared with those with low cardiovascular fitness.

The message here is that a family history of heart disease does not mean you are destined for the same. Improving your fitness can help protect you from the genetic hand you were dealt.

Image: © Barry Austin/Getty Images