Heart disease has naturally received particular attention from genetics researchers, since it kills more people worldwide than any other disease. In the past few years, geneticists have isolated a number of gene variations that are strongly associated with serious heart conditions and can be pinpointed with genetic testing.
But providing people with genetic information suggesting that their hearts are menaced without also offering them possible ways to stave off that threat seems callous.
Thankfully, some past studies have hinted that people’s lifestyles, including how they eat and exercise, can ease even strong inherited risks for heart problems.
But most such studies have examined a range of lifestyle issues.
For the new study, which was published this month in Circulation, researchers at Stanford University and other institutions decided to focus specifically on the role of physical fitness.
Then they checked to see whether any of the men and women developed heart disease within the next six years or so. Many did, according to their health records, especially if they carried any of the gene variants associated with cardiac conditions.
But physical fitness changed that calculus significantly, the data showed.
Those men and women with the highest aerobic fitness halved their statistical likelihood of developing heart disease, no matter how worrisome their genetic profiles, the scientists found.
In essence, if people were fit, they were less likely to have heart problems than someone who was less fit, even if their genes predicted heart disease.