A Word from Dr. Kirby – Exercise Benefits Persons With Strong Family History of Heart Disease

May 20, 2018 @ 13:14

Here is an recent article regarding the benefits of exercise in persons who have a high risk of heart attack based on their family history. It was recently published in the medical journal “Circulation”.

“Does heart disease run in your family? You could most likely slash your risk of developing or dying from heart disease if you are physically fit. Being strong helps too.
Those are the findings of the largest study to date of the associations between exercise, fitness and cardiac genetics.
Its results also indicate that, regardless of our genetic inheritance, all of us can benefit by moving more.
There is considerable interest today among scientists and anyone else who has DNA in understanding what the gene variations we carry can tell us about our health, heritage and possible future risks for a wide variety of diseases. Researchers have begun using a technique called genome-wide-association studies to tease out such risks. Basically, they map people’s entire genomes and crosscheck that information against health outcomes to see whether people with gene snippet A also have heart disease or Alzheimer’s or breast cancer or another disease.
Heart disease has naturally received particular attention from genetics researchers, since it kills more people worldwide than any other disease. In the past few years, geneticists have isolated a number of gene variations that are strongly associated with serious heart conditions and can be pinpointed with genetic testing.
But providing people with genetic information suggesting that their hearts are menaced without also offering them possible ways to stave off that threat seems callous.
Thankfully, some past studies have hinted that people’s lifestyles, including how they eat and exercise, can ease even strong inherited risks for heart problems.
But most such studies have examined a range of lifestyle issues.
For the new study, which was published this month in Circulation, researchers at Stanford University and other institutions decided to focus specifically on the role of physical fitness.
Because they also wanted to include a large and varying group of people in the study, they turned to the trove of data gathered in Britain in the U.K. Biobank, which houses health information about more than 500,000 men and women who were between ages 40 and 69 at the study’s start in 2006.
All of the participants had provided blood and saliva samples for genetic testing, filled out extensive questionnaires about their exercise and other health habits, and in some cases, sweated on a stationary bike or treadmill and later squeezed a vice-like gadget to quantify their aerobic fitness and muscular strength. Some also wore activity monitors for a week to objectively track how much they moved.
The researchers zeroed in on the 482,702 men and women in the study who had had no known heart disease at the start, genetically typing their tissue samples, looking for various snippets of genes known to raise heart disease risk. They also stratified them into three groups, based on how fit and strong they were.
Then they checked to see whether any of the men and women developed heart disease within the next six years or so. Many did, according to their health records, especially if they carried any of the gene variants associated with cardiac conditions.
But physical fitness changed that calculus significantly, the data showed.
Those men and women with the highest aerobic fitness halved their statistical likelihood of developing heart disease, no matter how worrisome their genetic profiles, the scientists found.
In essence, if people were fit, they were less likely to have heart problems than someone who was less fit, even if their genes predicted heart disease.
Stout grip strength likewise reduced cardiac-disease risk, although not quite to the same extent. “What this tells us is that you can mitigate some of your genetic risk for heart disease by being fit, no matter how high that risk may be,” says Dr. Erik Ingelsson, a professor of medicine at Stanford who oversaw the study.
The data intimate, too, that the amount of fitness required is not huge. The people in the high-fitness group “were not athletes,” Dr. Ingelsson says. They engaged in moderate activities, like walking, according to their activity questionnaires.”