#193 3 Minor Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Bad Genes

3 Minor Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Bad Genes

Most of my patients mistakingly believe that their heart problems came from bad genes.  In this article, I review a recent study showing that 3 minor lifestyle changes can reverse bad genes.  Indeed, you can reverse bad genes even without losing weight.

Genes vs. Lifestyle

A couple of years ago, a young cardiologist, by the name of Dr. Amit V. Khera, from Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital pondered an age old question.  Is disease due to nature (genes) or nurture (lifestyle).

In pondering this question, he wanted to know whether genes or lifestyle was most important in determining who got heart disease and who didn’t.  To answer this question, he searched through the medical records of 55,685 people.

In assessing the effects of bad genes, he gave each of these 55,685 people a genetic score based on how many of the 50 bad cardiovascular genes they had.  For lifestyle factors, Dr. Khera gave them a “passing grade” if they could just do three of the following four things:

1. Don’t smoke.

2. Keep your weight below the obesity level (BMI less than 30).

3. Exercise at least once a week.

4. Eat just a slightly healthy diet.

The Bare Minimum Exercise

Many of my patients tell me that they hate to exercise.  Perhaps this is because they picture “exercise” as something that can only be done everyday at the gym.

This study completely changes what most people think of as exercise.  For example, in this study, even getting out for a little walk on just one day of the week would qualify as being physically active.

Really, it doesn’t take much.  Many other studies have also shown that even the slightest of physical activity can cave huge health and lifespan benefits.  Of course, to get even more benefit from exercise, you will need to do much more than the bare minimum.

The Bare Minimum “Healthy Diet”

Perhaps it is because Dr. Khera is not used to seeing people, like my blog readers, reverse medical problems with lifestyle medicine.  Thus, for this study, he selected an incredibly weak “healthy diet” score.

For example, eating more fruits and vegetables than most other Americans is a very weak standard given that fruits and vegetables are mostly absent from the standard American diet (SAD diet).  Secondly, eating large amounts of dairy is also not something considered “healthy” by many studies.  Thirdly, considering that close to half of Americans drink sugary drinks daily, then drinking only half a can daily would still be considered a healthy diet according to this study.

I could go on and on about the weaknesses of this healthy diet score, but I won’t.  The bottom line is that it really didn’t take much to achieve a healthy diet by the standards used in this study. For the 10 dietary factors listed below, you only needed to achieve five of them to be classified as having a healthy diet.

1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

2. Enjoy more nuts.

3. Eat more whole grains.

4. Consume more fish.

5. Get more dairy.

6. Eat less processed grains.

7. Consume less processed and red meats.

8. Drink less soda pop or other sugary drinks.

9. Take in less trans fat.

10. Eat a lower salt diet.

Genes vs. Lifestyle Study Results

When crunching the numbers, Dr. Khera found that bad genes doubled your risk of heart problems.  However, adopting just three of the four lifestyle factors (don’t smoke, keep weight below the obesity level, exercise once a week, and achieve five of the 10 healthy diet factors), completely reversed the heart risks of bad genes.

The message of hope from this study is that even the most minor of minor lifestyle changes can reverse bad genes.  Of course, to prevent or reverse up to 90% of all heart issues is going to require much more aggressive lifestyle changes.

Overweight People Can Also Reverse Bad Genes

What this study is telling us is that even being overweight (BMI of 25 to 29) is “healthy” provided your weight doesn’t drift up into the obesity range (BMI over 30).  Even if you are more than 100 pounds overweight, according to this study, you still can be classified as having a healthy lifestyle provided you don’t smoke, exercise once a week, and can hit on at least five of the dietary factors listed above.

To calculate your BMI, or body mass index, you take your weight in kilograms and divide it by your height in meters squared.  If you want to skip the math, here is a link to a simple BMI calculator to see where you land.

While the BMI number is not a perfect measure of who is at a healthy weight, it does work well for most people.  A normal BMI, or a heathy weight, is defined as a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.

Take Home Message

The take home message is that even the most minimal of minimal lifestyle choices can completely reverse the effects of bad genes.  If even these, ever so slight, lifestyle choices can reverse bad genes then just imagine how easy if would be to reverse or prevent almost any medical condition with more aggressive lifestyle choices.

How easy was it for you to be classified as having a heathy lifestyle according to this study?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.

Also, if you have not yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now would be a great time.  Here are links to access The Longevity Plan newsletter and podcast.

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  1. I noticed in Jane’s recipe she uses white balsamic vinegar. Is there something unhealthy about regular dark balsamic vinegar?

    • Hi Bryce,

      Thanks for reading!

      No, there is nothing unhealthy about dark balsamic vinegar. Different vinegars have different tastes.



  2. Dr Day,
    Thank You for the article. Thought you might find my lifestyle experience interesting. 25 years ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It is on both sides of my family. At the time I lost 50 lbs. and never gained it back. I adopted a very healthy lifestyle. I exercise 7 days a week.
    never smoked or drank alcohol. My diet is high fiber, low carb and fairly high in saturated fat. I eat red meat, but not to excess. My diet is low salt. Now after 25 years I am 78 years old and have no health problems what so ever. I feel really good and have lots of energy and no pain. Heart disease and arthritis along with type 2 diabetes are on both sides of my family. I take 18 units of long acting insulin and no drugs. I am a true believer