There are easy changes you can make to beat the odds when it comes to heart disease.

Having a family history of heart disease is a worrying legacy. However, new research reveals that a genetic tendency does not mean your future poor health is a done deal.

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine reveals how favourable lifestyle choices can have an extraordinarily powerful impact on health destiny; cutting the risk of heart attacks, heart bypass surgery and heart-related death by around half.

José Ordovás, director of the Nutrition and Genomics Research Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston explains: “Although a high genetic tendency increases risk of heart disease, an unhealthy lifestyle also has this effect – beyond a person’s genetic risk. Fortunately, the opposite is also true: a healthy lifestyle can decrease the risk of heart disease, especially for those with high genetic risk.”

Scientists came to this conclusion after having scrutinised the medical records of over 55,000 adults, who possessed 50 different genetic variants known to increase heart disease risk.

Genetic-risk scores and lifestyle risks (avoiding obesity, following a heart-healthy diet, exercising at least once a week and no current smoking) were then assigned.

Although being at high genetic risk was associated with a 91% higher risk of heart events compared with being at low genetic risk, the greater number of favourable lifestyle habits people managed to notch up, the more their risk factor dropped.

Managing at least three of the four lifestyle criteria was associated with an almost 50% drop in risk, compared to meeting one to none of the criteria. This reduction was true regardless of genetic predisposition.

Genetic testing isn’t currently offered by GPs or heart specialists as routine, but this is likely to change in the near future. Until then, knowing we really can outsmart our genes could be just the incentive we need to eat well, get moving and give up the ciggies for good.

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