Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Are Your Genes Your Destiny? Not Necessarily
We often think of heredity as being a foregone conclusion. Undoubtedly, there are certain inherited diseases and traits that we cannot control. But in many cases, how we live our lives has a huge influence on the impact of our genetics.
High blood pressure is a great example. Diet, exercise, weight, stress, smoking, sleep, and so many other factors can all influence our blood pressure. So can heredity. A recent study published in the medical journal Hypertension by Dr. Robin Shook and colleagues at the University of South Carolina examined how the expression of our genes can be influenced by lifestyle choices.
The research team studied 6278 individuals, gathering baseline information on family history, overall fitness, other risk factors, and blood pressure. Participants were then tracked for nearly five years. After accounting for other risk factors, those with a family history of hypertension were 20 percent more likely than average to suffer from hypertension themselves. However, when aerobic fitness was taken into account, those with a family history and the lowest fitness scores were 70 percent more likely to have high blood pressure compared to those without a family history. On the other hand, those with the highest scores of physical fitness were at only a 16 percent greater risk.
What this means is that by committing to a healthy, active lifestyle, you may have a profound influence over the way your genes impact your health. The same idea applies to people with the “fat gene,” a common gene found in nearly half of all Caucasian Americans. Although the gene is associated with a greater tendency towards weight gain, a heart smart diet seems to essentially turn the gene off.
There is no doubt that in many cases genetics trump lifestyle, but regardless of the hand that nature has dealt us, we are fortunate to have choices and opportunities that allow us to create the healthiest lives possible for ourselves and for those we love.
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