One myth that I like to dispel right away with my patients is the inevitability of getting a chronic disease because of family history. “Well, my father had heart disease, and my grandmother, so I guess I’m doomed!” Numerous studies in the past have taken a look at the relative contribution of genetics versus lifestyle in the development of chronic disease — and the majority of the burden has always come down on lifestyle.
This past week’s issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) had yet another amazing research study proving this point. They looked at the risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in American women — the type of fatal heart attack that comes with no warning, and in many cases no known “traditional” risk factors (like high cholesterol). Researchers looked at this in light of four healthy lifestyle factors: daily exercise, non-smoking, normal body weight, and high adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet.
Scoring well in even one of these categories reduced risk of SCD by 44%, compared to those who had none of the healthy lifestyle features. But with all four healthy factors? A whopping 92% lower risk of SCD! This translates into lifestyle accounting for about 80% of the risk of SCD compared to genetics. Yet another reminder that your health is largely in your own hands — family history is not destiny.
So, anyone for a dinner that includes extra virgin olive oil, vegetables, and fish, after a quick workout at the gym? Your life may depend on it.