March 5, 2020 / 5:20 PM / 24 days ago

Even with atrial fibrillation, exercise linked to longer life

(Reuters Health) - - People with a common heart rhythm problem who are physically active may live longer than more sedentary counterparts, a recent study suggests.

Among 1,100 adults with atrial fibrillation, or Afib, those who got regular exercise were about 45% less likely to die of any cause, or of cardiovascular causes specifically, over a 7-9 year study period compared to those who got little physical activity.

These results suggest that moderate exercise like brisk walking for 30 minutes most days of the week could help people with atrial fibrillation live longer, said Dr. Christopher Granger of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

“People who are physically active have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower body weight, and lower levels of stress,” Granger, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “All of this helps protect the heart from heart attacks, heart failure, and death.”

In atrial fibrillation, chaotic electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart cause the heart muscle to quiver rather than contracting normally. As a result, blood clots can form in the heart and travel to the brain to cause a stroke. Afib patients often take blood thinners to reduce this risk.

People with Afib can struggle to exercise because exertion makes the heart race, leading to a drop in blood pressure, which makes them feel faint. Patients can feel breathless from low intensity exercise and tire more quickly than those without Afib.

Only one-third of participants in the current study got the minimum recommended amount of exercise for optimal health: 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. At the start of the study, the average age was 72.

Overall, 42% of inactive people died during the study, as did 31% of people who got some exercise but fell short of recommended activity levels. Among those who did meet minimum exercise recommendations, 21% died.

Researchers also scored participants’ exercise levels and intensity based on a measure known as metabolic equivalent of task (MET) hours per week.

Each additional MET hour per week was associated with a 12% lower risk of death from all causes and a 15% lower risk of death from cardiovascular causes, Dr. Bjarne Nes of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, and colleagues report in the European Heart Journal. Nes didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

The study doesn’t prove exercise is what reduced mortality for active patients and it also wasn’t designed to identify the ideal amount, type, or frequency of activity for people with Afib.

Still, the results add to evidence suggesting that exercise can improve outcomes for atrial fibrillation patients, said Dr. Jonathan Piccini, director of cardiac electrophysiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

“Another key message is that some exercise is better than no exercise,” Piccini, who also wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “These are really important messages because exercise is a very powerful treatment that is highly cost-effective and leads to multiple benefits in addition to reduction in atrial fibrillation.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/38j6OzW European Heart Journal, online February 11, 2020.

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