People who spend more time in studying in formal education are less likely to develop heart disease, including heart attacks and heart failure, experts have found.
Those who stayed in education for 3.6 years longer had a 30 per cent lower chance of developing coronary heart disease, according to a study published in The British Medical Journal (The BMJ).
The international team of researchers from University College London, the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and the University of Oxford analysed genetic variants among 543,733 predominantly European men and women.
Spending longer in education was also associated with a lower body mass index, being less likely to smoke and having a more favourable blood fat profile.
The findings suggest that increasing time spent in education may result in "substantial health benefits", the authors wrote.
"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," they said.
"These findings should stimulate policy discussions about increasing educational attainment in the general population to improve population health."
Coronary heart disease occurs when the coronary arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material.
The main symptoms of coronary heart disease include angina, heart attacks and heart failure.
Commenting on the study, Tim Frayling, professor of human genetics at the University of Exeter, said: "There are strong associations between health and wealth, and inevitably that means health and education.
"This study is important because it uses the next best thing to a randomised controlled trial - the authors effectively randomised people to different educational outcomes by comparing their genetic propensity to continue for longer in education.
"They then showed that the people with the 'longer education' genes had fewer heart attacks compared to the people with the 'shorter education' genes.
"What they don't discuss in detail is whether or not this could be down simply to higher educational ability, not length in education itself – if people are better able to understand and act on health advice, they might spend longer in education and have fewer heart attacks."
Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "As well as better prospects in terms of employment and financial independence, this research suggests we can add improved heart health to the list of benefits staying in education longer.
"We are not shocked by these findings as we already know that spending more time in education is associated with lower rates of smoking and a lower body mass index, which are both huge risk factors for coronary heart disease.
"The research also focused on analysing people's genetic disposition.
"This is really interesting, by looking at how your genes can lead to heart disease, we could be one step closer to discovering a new drug to treat coronary heart disease, a devastating condition that is responsible for 70,000 deaths in the UK."