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Even with atrial fibrillation, exercise linked to longer life

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 percent less likely to die of any cause, or of cardiovascular causes specifically, over a seven- to nine-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 AFib live longer, Duke University cardiologist Christopher Granger said.

In atrial fibrillation, chaotic electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart cause the heart muscle to quiver rather than contract 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 percent of inactive people died during the study, as did 31 percent of people who got some exercise but fell short of recommended activity levels. Among those who did meet minimum exercise recommendations, 21 percent 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 percent lower risk of death from all causes and a 15 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular causes, according to Bjarne Nes of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim and colleagues in a report in the European Heart Journal.

The study does not prove exercise is what reduced mortality for active patients, and it also was not designed to identify the ideal amount, type or frequency of activity for people with AFib.

— Reuters