Avoid A-Fib and Stroke by Staying Fit.

Avoid A-Fib and Stroke by Staying Fit.

Physical Fitness Found to Lower the Risk of Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke


People often hear the advice to stay fit for their overall health, but now there’s even more reason to lace up those sneakers. A recent study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2023 revealed that physical fitness can lower the likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation (a-fib) and stroke. With a sample size of 15,000 individuals and over 11 years of follow-up, the study offers significant insights into the positive impact of fitness on heart health.

Dr. Shih-Hsien Sung, the study author from the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taipei, Taiwan, emphasizes the importance of the findings as they objectively measured fitness levels and followed participants for an extended period. The results indicate that maintaining a good level of fitness may serve as a preventive measure against atrial fibrillation and stroke.

To assess participants’ fitness, researchers conducted treadmill tests using the Bruce protocol between 2003 and 2012. The test involved gradually increasing the speed and incline of the treadmill every three minutes. Fitness was calculated based on the rate of energy expenditure, expressed in metabolic equivalents (METs). These METs are an indication of how efficiently the body uses oxygen during physical activity.

The study followed individuals, who had an average starting age of 55 and were predominantly male, tracking their incidence of new-onset a-fib, stroke, myocardial infarction (heart attack), and death. After adjusting for other potential contributing factors, the researchers discovered some compelling associations.

Over an average follow-up period of 11.4 years, 3.3% of the participants developed a-fib. The study found that every one MET increase in the treadmill test was linked to an 8% lower risk of atrial fibrillation, a 12% lower risk of stroke, and a 14% lower risk of major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) like heart attack and stroke.

Based on the METs achieved during the treadmill test, participants were categorized into three fitness levels: low (less than 8.57 METs), medium (8.57 to 10.72 METs), and high (more than 10.72 METs). The probability of remaining free from a-fib over a five-year period was 97.1% in the low fitness group, and a staggering 98.4% in both the medium and high fitness groups. These results demonstrate the clear benefits of maintaining a higher level of physical fitness.

Atrial fibrillation affects over 40 million people worldwide, making it the most common heart rhythm disorder. Those with a-fib also face a fivefold higher risk of stroke, which underscores the importance of prevention strategies.

It’s important to bear in mind that findings presented at medical meetings are still considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. However, the results from this large-scale study contribute to the growing body of evidence supporting the positive relationship between fitness and heart health.

For more information, individuals can refer to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s resources on atrial fibrillation.



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