Living Healthy Counters Effects of 'Life-Shortening' Genes
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Living Healthy Counters Effects of 'Life-Shortening' Genes

Key Takeaways

  • Lifestyle can have a powerful effect on life expectancy, even if a person has genes that could shorten their lifespan

  • Healthy living can offset life-shortening genetics by more than 60%

  • On the other hand, an unhealthy lifestyle is associated with a 78% increased risk of early death

TUESDAY, April 30, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors argue that genetics aren’t destiny when it comes to a person’s health, and a study appears to support that notion.

A healthy lifestyle can offset the effects of life-shortening genes by more than 60%, researchers found.

People at high genetic risk of a curtailed lifespan could extend their life expectancy by nearly 5.5 years if they’ve adopted a healthy lifestyle by age 40, results show.

On the other hand, an unhealthy lifestyle is associated with a 78% increased risk of an early death, regardless of a person’s genetic predisposition.

The study highlights “the pivotal role of a healthy lifestyle in mitigating the impact of genetic factors on lifespan reduction,” concluded the research team led by Dr. Xue Li with the Center of Clinical Big Data and Analytics of The Second Affiliated Hospital at Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China.

“Public health policies for improving healthy lifestyles would serve as potent complements to conventional healthcare and mitigate the influence of genetic factors on human lifespan,” the researchers said.

For the study, researchers analyzed data drawn from nearly 354,000 people participating in the UK Biobank genetics and health study. More than 24,000 died over an average follow-up of nearly 13 years.

Each person was scored based on their genetic health risks, and they also received a score regarding the healthiness of their lifestyle.

A healthy lifestyle included no smoking, moderate drinking, regular physical activity, a healthy body shape, adequate sleep and a healthy diet, researchers said.

About 23% had a completely healthy lifestyle based on those measures, 56% had a moderately healthy lifestyle, while 22% had an unhealthy lifestyle.

Those genetically predisposed to a short lifespan were 21% more likely than those genetically predisposed to a long life, regardless of lifestyle.

But those with an unhealthy lifestyle were 78% more likely to die early than those with a healthy lifestyle, regardless of their genetics.

Overall, those who combined bad genetics and an unhealthy lifestyle were twice as likely to die as those with good genes who were living healthy, results show.

Four factors in particular contributed to healthy living that made a difference in longevity, researchers said -- not smoking, regular exercise, good sleep and a healthy diet.

The new study was published April 29 in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine.

More information

The National Institutes of Health has more about longevity and genetics.

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, April 29, 2024

What This Means For You

People can extend their life with healthy habits, even if they’re genetically predisposed to life-shortening illnesses.

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