This Is the Super Important Reason You Should Stay in School—and It Has Nothing to Do with Getting a Degree

All the cool kids are doing it, and now it's official: Staying in school is good for your heart as well as your head—and your future.

schoolMonkey Business Images/ShutterstockSure, you can find jobs that don’t require a college degree—here’s a list of the best ones. But you’re more likely to find a job that offers greater financial benefits with a degree: A college grad earns more than a non-grad, and most jobs that require a degree typically provide more benefits, like health care and travel perks. There’s another reason, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal: People who graduate have a lower risk of developing heart disease.

A team of international researchers from University College London, the University of Lausanne, and the University of Oxford tested whether education is a risk factor for the development of coronary heart disease (here are some other risk factors for heart disease you should know about). They analyzed 162 genetic variants already shown to be linked with years of further education (yes, they can find genes linked to a proclivity to study) from 543,733 men and women, predominantly of European origin, using a technique called mendelian randomization. This technique uses genetic information to sidestep some of the difficulties researchers have in drawing conclusions about cause and effect in observational studies. For example, we know that college-educated people tend to be slimmer and suffer fewer heart attacks, but is it because this group has access to better information on nutrition, are financially more secure, or more likely to exercise? Or is the connection merely coincidence? With mendelian randomization, the genetic links between education and lower risk of heart disease can firm up the link.

The researchers found that genetic predisposition towards more time spent in education was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Specifically, 3.6 years of additional education—a similar length of time to an undergraduate university degree—could predict a reduction in risk of coronary heart disease by about a third. (Check out these 15 ways to prevent heart disease you might not be aware of.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the U.S. the leading cause of death globally. It’s widely accepted that coronary artery disease—a buildup of plaque in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and other parts of the body—may be caused by several factors, including smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a sedentary lifestyle. In this study, a genetic predisposition towards longer time spent in education was also associated with less likelihood of smoking, lower body mass index (BMI), and a more favorable blood fat profile.

While it’s still not clear if the association between education and a lower risk of heart disease is causal, partly because randomized controlled trials are practically impossible in this area due to the long interval between exposure and outcome (approximately 50 years), the study authors conclude that “increasing the number of years that people spend in the educational system may lower their risk of subsequently developing coronary heart disease by a substantial degree” and hope their findings will encourage policy discussions about increasing time spent in education in the general population to improve their health.

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