50+ Health Conditions, Health Studies, Heart Health

A Health Clue from Your Parents

A new study suggests if your parents lived past 70 years of age, you are 20 percent less likely to die from heart disease. You may also have lower rates of vascular disease, heart failure, stroke, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The study’s co-author is Luke Pilling, a research fellow in epidemiology and public health at the University of Exeter Medical School.

Scientists have known for some time that you are more likely to live to an advanced age if your parents were long-lived, but Pilling and his colleagues were interested in understanding the reason. They also wanted to learn more about why some people develop cardiovascular disease in their 60s and others do not. Pilling says:

We aimed to find the factors that influence the health and lifespan of offspring — the ones that are transferred from their parents.

The researchers studied over 186,000 subjects, aged 55 to 73, all of whose parents had died. The participants were recruited between 2006 and 2010, and about 4,700 of the died over the course of the eight-year study.

The correlation between longer-living parents and heart health remained constant even after adjustments for education, age, weight and physical activity level. The researchers mentioned in their conclusions that other studies have found similar results, but those involved smaller groups of participants.

Of course, the longevity of your parents, or the lack of longevity, are not absolute determinants of your own health. Your lifestyle is still the most important factor. Pilling emphasized that the decisions you make about your health can reverse inherited trends. He says:

Though people with longer-lived parents are more likely to live longer themselves, there are lots of ways for those with shorter-lived parents to improve their health. People can really take their health into their own hands.

Pilling explains your genetic inheritance from your parents appears to affect not just your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but also the likelihood you will be addicted to tobacco, and your level of obesity. He adds:

These are all factors that affect risk of heart disease. We did find some clues that there might also be other pathways to longer life, such as through better repair of damage to DNA.

The scientists recommend more research to increase understanding of these factors.