Healthy living key to reducing genetic risks, study finds

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A new study has found people with a genetic risk could extend their lifespan by up to five-and-a-half years with a healthy lifestyle.


The study, published Monday to the BMJ Evidence-Based Medical Journal, also found a healthy lifestyle can reduce genetic risk for early death by 62 per cent.


The numbers spoke volumes to Ally Garber, a member of the Halifax running community who is also well-known as a mental health and sobriety advocate.


“My grandmother had breast cancer,” Garber said. “My mother had breast cancer, and unfortunately that did end up taking my mom’s life.”


After her mother’s death in May 2018, Garber, a mother of two, took up running and gave up drinking.


Garber has since completed two Boston Marathons, but says her lifestyle changes have paid dividends far beyond the finish line.


“I have never appreciated life, and the life that I have, more than today – and I think that’s absolutely because of the choices that I’m making,” Garber said.


Cape Breton emergency room and family physician Dr. Margaret Fraser said she regularly sees people who die prematurely, or develop a life-threatening illness, because of a poor lifestyle.


“Oh, almost every day. You see people who have a stroke in their fifties because they eat a breakfast sandwich every morning and smoke,” Fraser said.


However, she said people don’t have to do anything too extreme to reduce their risk.


“As long as you do something active every day and don’t spend the majority of your time sitting, you can modify those cardiovascular risk factors,” she said.


Fraser added when it comes to our genetics, some things are more difficult to control.


“Some things, like cancer, are not as amenable to those lifestyle modifications but we know that if you have a healthy weight you’re less at risk for some cancers such as breast cancer,” Fraser said.


The study identified an optimal lifestyle combination as including no smoking, regular physical activity, adequate sleep and a healthy diet.


For Garber, the improvements to her mental health and wellness have been as important – or more so – than the physical benefits.


“I’m really hopeful that these choices are going to benefit me in the long run, and allow me to be more active and present with my kids for as long as I can,” Garber said.


The study gathered data from more than 350,000 people and included information on their genetics, education, socioeconomic status and disease history.

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