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Increase Your Lifespan, Decrease Heart Disease

People who follow seven rules for healthy living – such as staying physically active and eating a healthy diet – could offset a high genetic risk for heart disease, according to new research that suggests it could mean as many as 20 extra years of life free of heart disease.

The study, published Monday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found people with high cumulative genetic risk scores for heart disease could dramatically lower that risk if they adhered to seven lifestyle modifications, called Life's Simple 7. In addition to eating a heart-healthy diet and moving more, this includes not smoking, maintaining an appropriate weight, and keeping blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels under control.

The findings are not the first to suggest lifestyle can give a person with high genetic risk a winning edge against heart disease, but they are the first to use a new genetic risk tool to show how much disease-free living a person might gain by taking steps to reduce that risk, said lead study author Natalie Hasbani, a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

"It's important to communicate these risks in a way that is truly impactful," she said, "to put it in terms of what the information can do for me." Translating risk reduction into an absolute measure – years lived free of disease – is something more typically done in cancer treatment research, she said. "The hope is that hearing these numbers can convince people to change their behaviors."

This was the first study to use the tool to predict lifetime risk for heart disease and the number of years both Black and white adults might live free of it if they adhered to a set of healthy lifestyle guidelines.

Polygenic risk scores are a relatively new tool that includes all of a person's genetic information rather than individual genes associated with a disease. The scoring is based on the total number of variants that increase heart disease risk found in a person's genetic code, based on studies that compare the genes of people who have the disease with those who don't.

The study calculated heart disease risk for 8,372 white adults and 2,314 Black adults age 45 and older. Overall, it found the risk for developing heart disease during a person's remaining lifetime ranged from 16.6% for those who practiced the healthiest lifestyles to 43.1% for those with the least healthy lifestyles. People with high polygenic risk scores could lower their risk for heart disease by up to 50% by also scoring high on following the healthy lifestyle recommendations, compared to their high genetic risk peers who didn't have healthy lifestyles.

Read more of this story by By Laura Williamson, American Heart Association News at



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