If you lost the genetic lottery when it comes to heart disease, take, well, heart: The upshot of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine is that "DNA is not destiny; it is not deterministic for this disease," as Dr. Sekar Kathiresan puts it. While the analysis of health data on some 55,000 people did reveal that "bad" genes can double your heart disease risk, researchers found that participants who had high genetic risk but led a "favorable" lifestyle can halve their risk. On the flip side, those dealt a good genetic hand who led an "unfavorable" lifestyle lost about half the genetic advantage, reports the New York Times.
So how to move into the favorable category? The study's authors focused on four indicators of a healthy lifestyle: no current smoking, no obesity, regular physical activity (the Times defines this as at least once a week), and healthy diet. Adhering to at least three of the four factors places one in the favorable column; unfavorable is one factor or less. "Patients may equate DNA-based risk estimates with determinism, a perceived lack of control over the ability to improve outcomes," the researchers write. "However, our results provide evidence that lifestyle factors may powerfully modify risk regardless of the patient’s genetic risk profile." But since a favorable lifestyle was tied to a reduced risk across each stratum of genetic risk, even those with "good" genes should take note.