HIGHER fitness levels are associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and stroke, including among people who are genetically predisposed to heart conditions, according to researchers from Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA. The study could lead to changes in the advice given to patients who have an increased genetic likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease.
UK Biobank Database
To make their findings, the researchers used information from 482,702 people about their grip strength and physical activity levels collected in the UK Biobank database, along with genetic data from 468,095 of these participants. They discovered that among the entire cohort, lower levels of a number of negative cardiovascular outcomes, including coronary artery disease, stroke, and atrial fibrillation were correlated with higher levels of fitness and physical activity.
Genetically At-Risk Patients
In people found to have a high genetic risk for heart disease, the team calculated that higher fitness levels were associated with a 49% and 60% reduced risk for coronary heart disease and atrial fibrillation, respectively, compared with those individuals with low cardiorespiratory fitness. Among participants who had an intermediate genetic risk for heart disease, there was a 36% and 46% lower likelihood for coronary heart disease and atrial fibrillation, respectively, in those with the strongest grips compared with those with the weakest grips and the same genetic risk.
Importance of Physical Activity
The findings emphasise the importance of physical activity for maintaining a healthy heart in everyone. “People should not just give up on exercise because they have a high genetic risk for heart disease,” said Prof Erik Ingelsson, Stanford University. “And vice versa: Even if you have a low genetic risk, you should still get exercise. It all ties back to what we have known all along: It’s a mix of genes and environment that influence health.”
With little previously known about whether exercise levels affect the risk of cardiovascular disease in people genetically predisposed to such conditions, the results could inform the advice doctors give to these patients. “This is important because of how we advise our patients,” added Prof Ingelsson. “It’s basically indicating that you can make some lifestyle changes, be more physically active, and it can make a difference to your long-term health.”
James Coker, Reporter
For the source and further information about the study, click here.