A number of fitness studies have illustrated the relationship between fitness and heart disease, but what about those people with heightened genetic susceptibility to cardiovascular problems?
A study published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), said that regular cardio exercise can even trump "bad" genetics, whether someone is already at low, intermediate or high risk.
"Associations of Fitness, Physical Activity, Strength, and Genetic Risk With Cardiovascular Disease," published on April 9, surveyed nearly 500,000 adults living in the United Kingdom between the ages of 40 and 69. The researchers tracked those who didn't show signs of heart disease for a decade, examining grip strength measurements and various exercise habits through questionnaires.
“Genes don’t have to determine destiny,” Erik Ingelsson, lead study author and professor of medicine at Stanford University, said of the study's findings. “You can impact your risk by being more fit. ... It was a very consistent pattern for all of these different measures. All were associated with lower risk of disease in the future.”
The researchers specifically examined the genetic profiles of adults at the highest risk for atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder, with stationary bicycle tests. Overall, they found that those with the highest levels of cardio fitness reduced their risk of developing atrial fibrillation by 60 percent.
A similar assessment showed those with high levels of cardio fitness reduced coronary heart disease risk by 49 percent.
“[The researchers] demonstrated that physical activity and fitness were associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease outcomes across a continuum of persons,” Russell Pate, a professor in the University of South Carolina’s Department of Exercise Science in the Arnold School of Public Health, told AHA. “For the public, that’s an important message. You can’t eliminate genetic risk, but you can absolutely attenuate the effects.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world, contributing to the deaths of 610,000 Americans annually.
In 2016, AHA reported that walking just 30 minutes a day can save the average American $2,500 in annual medical expenses.