Research reveals: What affects life span more - genes or lifestyle

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A healthy lifestyle can offset the negative effects of life-shortening genes by more than 60 percent, according to an analysis of findings from several large, long-term studies published in the journal "BMJ Journals".

It has long been known that both genes and lifestyle influence life expectancy. However, until now there have been no large studies quantifying these factors. Both good genes and a healthy lifestyle work together to reduce the risk of premature death, according to the results of a major new study. On the other hand, an unhealthy lifestyle is associated with a significantly higher risk of premature death, regardless of genetic predisposition.

Categories by genetics

For the purposes of the new paper, the scientists used data from the UK Biobank project on 353.742 adults of European descent who were recruited between 2006 and 2010 and were followed until 2021.

In the study, the respondents were classified according to the genetic predisposition for the duration of life, the so-called. polygenic risk score (PRS), which combines several genetic variants to arrive at an overall genetic predisposition to a longer or shorter lifespan.

Based on data from the LifeGen study, according to the polygenic risk score, participants were classified into three categories: long (with the lowest risk value), medium (with a value of 2 to 4), and short (with the highest value).

Categories by way of life

Based on the American NHANES study, participants were awarded points for healthy lifestyle habits that included not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, regular physical activity, healthy body weight, adequate sleep duration and healthy diet.

Based on these points, participants' lifestyles were categorized as favorable, intermediate, and unfavorable. During a median follow-up period of nearly 13 years, 24.239 participants died.

Those who were genetically predisposed to a short life span had a 21 percent greater chance of premature death, that is, before the age of 75, than those who were genetically predisposed to a long life, regardless of lifestyle. On the other hand, those who had an unfavorable lifestyle were 78 percent more likely to die prematurely than those with a favorable lifestyle, regardless of their genetic predisposition.

People with a high genetic risk of a shortened lifespan who also had an unfavorable lifestyle were up to twice as likely to die prematurely as those who were genetically predisposed to a long life and had a favorable lifestyle.

An optimal combination of a healthy lifestyle

Research results suggest that the optimal combination of lifestyle consists of four factors: not smoking, regular physical activity, enough night's sleep and a healthy diet. The authors point out that the study is observational and therefore cannot lead to definitive conclusions about causes and effects.

A favorable lifestyle neutralizes genetic risk

Despite this and some other limitations, they note that their findings show that the genetic risk of a shorter life or premature death can be offset by a favorable lifestyle by about 62 percent. When this is converted into years, it follows that people at high genetic risk of a shortened lifespan at age 40 could extend their lifespan by almost 5,5 years with a healthy lifestyle.

At the same time, the authors warn that life habits are usually consolidated before middle age, which implies that steps should be taken before then to mitigate the negative genetic predisposition to a shortened life.

"This study clarifies the key role of a healthy lifestyle in mitigating the impact of genetic factors on shortening lifespan. "Public health policies to improve healthy lifestyles could serve as a powerful complement to conventional health care and mitigate the impact of genetic factors on human lifespan," the authors conclude.

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