Exercise is an effective defense for those with genetic risk of CVD

As fitness increases, risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) may decrease regardless of genetic predisposition, according to findings published April 9 in Circulation.

Researchers sought to answer whether physical activity and fitness are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular events and the effect—if any—of genetic predisposition.

“The main message of this study is that being physically active is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, even if you have a high genetic risk,” said lead author Erik Ingelsson, MD, PhD, with the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, and colleagues.

Researchers reviewed data from more than 500,000 patients aged 49 to 60 who were part of the U.K. Biobank. At the start of the study, none of the participants exhibited signs of heart disease.

The team found that, overall, exercise lowered the risk of CVD development in study subjects with genetic predisposition to CVD.

Individuals of the study cohort with intermediate genetic risk for CVD who had the strongest grips were 36 percent less likely to develop heart disease and had a 46 percent decrease in developing atrial fibrillation, compared to those with weak grips.

Those who exhibited a high genetic risk for CVD and had high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with a 49 percent lower risk for coronary heart disease and had a 60 percent decrease in developing atrial fibrillation, compared to those who had low fitness.

The International Physical Activity Questionnaire was used to determine the frequency of exercise activity and accelerometers, hand dynamometers measured grip strength and a treadmill was used for objective measurements.

During follow-up, 20,914 cardiovascular events were reported, which included heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

Though this study was meant to establish a trend and not show causation, the researchers believe this data could be beneficial to developing guidelines.