Upfront

Heart disease end run

Even people who are genetically prone to heart disease can improve their heart health by being more active, one of the largest observational studies on fitness and heart disease found.

Mark Smith illustration

The Stanford-led study examined data collected from nearly a half-million people in the UK Biobank database.

Researchers found that people with higher levels of fitness and physical activity have lower levels of such negative health outcomes as coronary artery disease, stroke and atrial fibrillation, regardless of their level for genetic risk of heart disease.

For example, high-risk people who also have high levels of cardio-respiratory fitness have a 49 percent lower risk for coronary heart disease and a 60 percent lower risk for atrial fibrillation compared with study participants with low cardiorespiratory fitness.

Because little has been known about the risk-modifying effects of exercise in people with increased genetic risk of cardiovascular disease, these results could have significant ramifications for public health, the study said.

“This is important because of how we advise our patients,” said study senior author Erik Ingelsson, MD, PhD, professor of cardiovascular medicine. “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.”

A paper describing the research was published April 9 in Circulation.

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