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A Healthy Lifestyle is More Powerful than Genetics for Long Life

It is a well established fact that your genes play a role in determining your lifespan. But it is an equally well established fact that your lifestyle does. Both play an important role, but which is more powerful?

A new study set out to determine just that: what effect does genetics have, what effect does lifestyle have, and which one weighs more?

The massive study tracked 353,742 adults.

First, the researchers combined multiple genetic factors to arrive at a polygenetic risk score–or the overall genetic predisposition to a longer or shorter lifespan–for each person. Then they looked at lifestyle factors. Then they tracked them for an average of nearly 13 years.

20% of the people in the study had a polygenetic risk score for long life, 60% for intermediate, and 20% for short.

The people who had both a genetic risk of a shorter lifespan and an unhealthy lifestyle were twice as likely to die prematurely than those with a genetic predisposition for a long life and a healthy lifestyle.

No matter what they did, people with a genetic predisposition for a short lifespan were 21% more likely to die early (before the age of 75). You can’t control the genes, but you can control the lifestyle. And those with an unhealthy lifestyle were a whopping 78% more likely to die before their time no matter their genetic predisposition.

That means that unhealthy lifestyle choices can shorten your life even if your genes want you to live longer. How big a factor is it?

Big! A healthy lifestyle can offset a genetic predisposition for a shorter life by 62%. That benefit translates into extending your life by 5.5 years at the age of 40. The most important lifestyle factors were a healthy diet, not smoking, regular exercise, and adequate sleep.

So, no matter how long your genes determine you to live, you can hugely affect your longevity by making healthy life choices. “This study,” the researchers say, “elucidates the pivotal role of a healthy lifestyle in mitigating the impact of genetic factors on lifespan reduction.”

BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine. Published Online First: 29 April 2024. doi: 10.1136/bmjebm-2023-112583.

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