Healthy living key to reducing genetic risks, study finds

A new study has found that people with a genetic risk can extend their lives by up to five and a half years while following a healthy lifestyle.

The study published Monday l Evidence-based medical journal BMJIt also found that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the genetic risk of premature death by 62%.

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

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

After her mother died in May 2018, Garber, a mother of two children, started running and gave up drinking.

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

“I’ve never appreciated life, and the life I live, more than today — and I think that’s because of the choices I make,” Garber said.

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

“Oh, almost every day. You see people having a stroke in their 50s because they eat a breakfast sandwich every morning and smoke,” Fraser said.

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

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

Fraser added that when it comes to our genetics, some things are hard to control.

“Some things, like cancer, are not amenable to lifestyle modifications, but we know that if you have a healthy weight you are less likely to get some cancers like breast cancer,” Fraser said.

The study identified an ideal lifestyle mix that includes not smoking, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and a healthy diet.

For Garber, the improvements to her mental health and wellness were just as important — or more so — than the physical benefits.

“I really hope that these choices will benefit me in the long run and allow me to be more active and present with my kids for as long as possible,” Garber said.

The study collected data from more than 350,000 people and included information about their genes, education, socioeconomic status, and medical history.

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