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The question of whether genetics or lifestyle plays a more important role in cardiovascular health is somewhat like asking which came first - the chicken or the egg? There are certainly genetic factors that have been identified which predispose you to the development of heart disease. On the other hand, there are many risk factors for heart disease which are preventable, such as weight control or exercise. At the end of the day, the question remains: which is more important in preventing heart disease - lifestyle or genetics?
This was the question asked by researchers from Northwestern Medicine in two separate studies. The findings from both studies were similar and supported the premise that your lifestyle is a key factor and clearly outweighs the role of genetics when it comes to preventing heart disease.
In the first study, researchers followed a group of 2,336 participants for 20 years. The participants were part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study and ranged in age from 18 to 30 years. All participants were tested in year one, seven and 20 for risk factors such as blood pressure, weight, and glucose levels. Researchers also followed the lifestyle habits of participants including whether or not they smoked, drank alcohol, exercised, or ate a healthy diet and maintained a healthy weight.
As a part of the study, researchers identified five areas which they believe to be the most important in terms of preventing future heart disease:
• No smoking
• No alcohol
• Weight control
• Physical activity
• Healthy diet
Participants who were able to incorporate these into their lifestyle were found to have a lower risk for developing heart disease as they entered middle-age. Those who incorporated all five healthy factors into their lives had a low risk heart factor (60 percent) as compared to those who only maintained one or less healthy factors (6 percent). The percentages were substantially similar regardless of race or gender.
In the second study, researchers followed cardiovascular health through three family generations.