MONDAY, March 12, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- If you're the child of parents who lived to 85 or more, your risk for heart disease in middle age is significantly lower than children of parents who died earlier, researchers report.

According to the findings, published in the March 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, children of long-lived parents tended to have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. They also had lower Framingham Risk Scores, which is a 10-year estimate of coronary heart disease risk based on age; total cholesterol and levels of high-density lipoprotein (the so-called good cholesterol); blood pressure; diabetes; and cigarette smoking.

The findings appear to point to the benefit of "good genes." But genetics are only part of the equation, said Dr. Clyde B. Schechter, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and author of an accompanying editorial in the journal.

"Genetics shouldn't overshadow a healthy lifestyle," Schechter said.

For the study, Dr. Dellara F. Terry, of Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues collected data on 1,697 people who participated in the Framingham Heart Study, a large, population-based study started in 1948. All the people in the new study had parents who also participated in the Framingham study.

Those included in the new study were examined between 1971 and 1975 -- average age 40 -- to assess their risk factors for heart disease. Between 1983 and 1987, 1,319 of the study participants were examined again.

Among the 1,697 people who began the study, 11 percent had two parents who lived to 85 or older, 47 percent had one parent who lived that long, and 42 percent had both parents die before age 85.

People whose parents lived to 85 or more had optimal or normal blood pressure, and an optimal to normal total/high-density lipoprotein cholesterol ratio. Moreover, a higher percentage of people whose parents lived to 85 or beyond had lower Framingham Risk Scores than people whose parents died younger.

The Framingham Risk Scores were worst among those whose parents both died before 85 and best among those whose parents both lived to 85 or more, the researchers found.

"Our findings suggest that individuals with long-lived parents have more advantageous cardiovascular risk profiles in middle age compared with those whose parents died younger and that the risk factor advantage persists over time," the authors noted.

"There are well-established genetic contributions to each of the risk factors that we have examined that may partially explain the reduced risk factors for those with long-lived parents. Better understanding of genetic variation in cardiovascular risk factors and longevity eventually may be helpful for disease prevention and treatment strategies in the community," they concluded.

Schechter said that how you manage the cardiac risk factors is more important than genes in determining how long you will live.

"For the bulk of the population, what's important is: 'Am I going to die in my 70s or make it into my 80s?' " Schechter said. "For that, things like whether you smoke, how you eat, whether you get exercise are tremendously important and probably overshadow the genetics, because your genes aren't particularly important in determining whether you die at 70 or 80."

More information

For more information on heredity and heart disease, visit the American Heart Association.

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