A healthy lifestyle greatly reduces the risk of coronary artery disease even in people who are genetically prone to it, according to an analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Using data from four large observational studies, researchers correlated a genetic score (based on 50 genes related to heart disease) and lifestyle score for more than 55,000 people. They found that while the worst genetic scores can double the risk of heart attacks or other coronary events, a “healthy lifestyle” score (meaning at least three of these factors—no smoking, no obesity, regular exercise, and healthy diet) appeared to nearly counteract that risk. In contrast, an unhealthy lifestyle seemed to erase about half the coronary benefit of a good genetic score.
While people often assume that genes can predetermine their risk for disease, these results “provide evidence that lifestyle factors may powerfully modify risk regardless of the patient’s genetic risk profile,” the study concluded.