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Genes vs. Lifestyle: What Matters Most for Health?

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD

Even if a condition like heart disease runs in your family, you can do a lot to break that pattern. Your choices and lifestyle make a big difference.

Some genes lead to disease. "But for most people, a healthy lifestyle trumps inherited risk," says cardiologist Donald Lloyd-Jones.

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Heart Disease

With heart disease, more than 100 types of genes may play a small role in a person's risk, Lloyd-Jones says. "But by far the biggest factor is lifestyle."

Your daily habits -- such as what you eat, how active you are, and not smoking -- strongly affect your heart health. Those are up to you, no matter what's in your family's medical history.

Let your doctor know about your relatives who have had heart disease. Also get a check-up, so you know more about your own heart's health. Then you'll be ready to make a plan, with your doctor, about the best things you can do for your heart.


Type 2 diabetes is partly about genes, but it's also about lifestyle.  

Exercising and managing your weight make a big difference. In one study, people who lost weight, exercised, and eaten a healthy diet dramatically improved heir A1C levels, a blood test used to check diabetes risk. They also improved their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

It's Not Too Late to Start

The sooner you take on healthy habits, the better. But even if you're already in your 60s or 70s, it helps a lot, research shows.

By exercising and following a healthy diet, older people can lower their risk of both heart disease. Adults over 65 who already have coronary artery disease can lower the danger of heart attacks by as much as 45%.  "Staying healthy is still mostly a matter of the choices we make," Lloyd-Jones says.

Reviewed on February 25, 2014
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