We know that exercise is good for the heart, but new research findings suggest that heart health may even be improved through exercise, where there’s a genetic predisposition for cardiovascular disease. In the past, people have assumed that a family history of heart disease means there’s little to be done to reduce their risks, but the latest research shows that exercise can even help where cardiovascular disease runs in the family.
A UK study looked at over 500,000 individuals, examining their medical histories in relation to cardiovascular disease. They found that those who engaged in more physical activity and exhibited overall better fitness were less likely to develop heart disease. These findings held true, even for those who had a family history of heart attacks and strokes.
According to Stanford University School of Medicine’s Erik Ingelsson, people with a high genetic risk of developing cardiovascular disease can improve heart health through regular exercise. Mr. Ingelsson participated in the UK study and revealed that grip strength was used as a method for determining physical fitness in the subjects. Those with a stronger grip strength and a moderate family history of cardiovascular disease were 36% less likely to develop coronary heart disease. It was also discovered that individuals with lower grip strength were 46% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation.
When researchers looked at individuals facing the highest genetic risk for developing cardiovascular disease, it was found that the fittest individuals were 49% less likely to develop heart disease than those with the lowest level of physical fitness. The more physically fit group also exhibited a 60% reduction in the risk of atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation is a medical condition in which the heart has a defective rhythm. This condition increases the chances that a person will experience a stroke within their lifetime.
Those participating in the extended study, which lasted over six years, aged in range from 40 to 69. Even though the participants didn’t have cardiovascular disease when the study began, the research documented 20,914 cardiovascular incidences through the course of the study. These included heart failure, atrial fibrillation, strokes, and heart attacks.
In addition to collecting data on each participant’s family history and genetic factors, those in the study also filled out questionnaires to record their level of physical activity. The research subjects were also subjected to treadmill tests and handheld grip strength tests. Other factors, such as diabetes, obesity, smoking habits, age, and gender were all considered in the study as well. None of these factors inhibited the benefits that increased physical activity has on heart health.