Is your heart’s health dependent on genetics you have inherited — or is it within your control?
That’s both an interesting and important question, and two large studies have come to a firm conclusion. And it’s a good one. Research confirms that a healthy lifestyle has the biggest impact on cardiovascular health. Forget genetics, and go for a jog.
One study shows that most people who adopted healthy lifestyle behaviors as young adults maintained a healthy heart into middle age. The second showed that heart health is due primarily to lifestyle factors and healthy behavior, not heredity. The studies were presented last week at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2010 in Chicago.
They identified the five most important healthy behaviors: not smoking; low or no alcohol intake; weight control; physical activity; and a healthy diet.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle, one study found, had a direct impact on cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes risk, and weight. The earlier you can adapt to a healthy lifestyle, the better. If you extend it later into life, you’ll have a better quality of life and lower Medicare bills.
One study looked at three generations of families to see how much heredity affects your heart’s health. Researchers looked at 7,535 people at age 40 and a separate group of 8,920 people at age 50. The goal was to see who was in ideal cardiovascular health at these two critical periods in middle age.
They found that only a small proportion of cardiovascular health is passed from parent to child. On the contrary, it appears that the majority of cardiovascular health is due to lifestyle and healthy behaviors.
What it means: what you do and how you live are going to have a larger impact on whether you are in ideal heart health than your genes or how you were raised.
Such results are important as they provide people with greater motivation to exercise and maintain healthy diets. We all do influence our own health to a major degree. If your father and grandfather suffered heart attacks, it does not mean you will as well. Protecting your heart is in your hands.
Start with regular exercise and eating a great deal of vegetables and fruits each day. Avoiding processed foods and those high in salt will go a long way. Substitute fish several times a week for meat in a meal.
And enjoy the rest of your life!