Mass General researchers find that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the chances of a heart attack, even among those at high genetic risk for one.

It is well known that following a healthy lifestyle – not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise – can reduce the risk of heart attack. But what about people who have inherited genetic factors that have been shown to increase heart attack risk?

Sekar Kathiresan, MD
Sekar Kathiresan, MD

A new research study led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital has found that, even among those at high genetic risk of a heart attack, following a healthy lifestyle can reduce the chances of a heart attack by 50 percent. The team analyzed genetic and clinical data from more than 55,000 participants who have enrolled in four large-scale, long-term research studies.

For those at the highest genetic risk of a heart attack, researchers found that following a healthy lifestyle – defined as not smoking, exercising once a week, eating healthy and maintaining a body mass index of less than 30 – reduced their risk of having a heart attack from 11 to 5 percent over a 20-year period.

Heart Attack Genetic Risk

“The basic message of our study is that DNA is not destiny,” says Sekar Kathiresan, MD, director of the Center for Genomic Medicine at Mass General and lead author of the study. “Many individuals – both physicians and members of the general public – have looked on genetic risk as unavoidable, but for heart attack that does not appear to be the case,” adds Dr. Kathiresan, who is also the Ofer and Shelly Nemirovsky MGH Research Scholar.

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