People can help reduce their odds of developing atrial fibrillation or stroke through one piece of standard medical advice: stay fit.

According to a new study in 15,000 people, physical fitness was found to have a lower likelihood of these conditions. The findings will be presented this weekend at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2023, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

“This was a large study with an objective measurement of fitness and more than 11 years of follow-up. The findings indicate that keeping fit may help prevent atrial fibrillation and stroke,” study author Dr. Shih-Hsien Sung, of the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taipei, Taiwan, said in a meeting news release.

Research participants did not have atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, an irregular and often rapid heart rhythm, at the study start and were referred for a treadmill test between 2003 and 2012. Researchers assessed their fitness using the Bruce protocol, where each person was asked to walk faster and at a steeper grade in successive three-minute stages.

Then the team calculated participants’ fitness according to the rate of energy expenditure the participants achieved, which was expressed in metabolic equivalents (METs).

The study followed the participants, who started at an average age of 55, and of whom 59% were male, looking for new-onset a-fib, stroke, myocardial infarction and death.

After adjusting for other potentially contributing factors, the researchers found that during a median of about 11.4 years, 3.3% of the participants developed a-fib. Each one MET increase on the treadmill test was associated with an 8% lower risk of a-fib, 12% lower risk of stroke and 14% lower risk of MACE, which stands for major adverse cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, the study found.

The participants were divided into three fitness levels according to METs achieved during the treadmill test: low, which was less than 8.57 METs; medium, which was 8.57 to 10.72; and high, which was more than 10.72.

The probability of remaining free from a-fib over a five-year period was 97.1%, 98.4% and 98.4%, respectively, in the low, medium and high fitness groups.

Atrial fibrillation affects more than 40 million people worldwide, making it the most common heart rhythm disorder. Patients with the condition also have a fivefold higher risk of stroke.

Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on atrial fibrillation.

SOURCE: European Society of Cardiology, news release, Aug. 22, 2023

Source: HealthDay

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