Staying in Shape Reduces the Risk of Atrial Fibrillation, Stroke

By Rob Dillard - Last Updated: August 24, 2023

A study showed that physical fitness is associated with a lower likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation and a lower risk of stroke. The research was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2023.

Researchers assessed 15,450 individuals (average age, 55 years; 59% men) without atrial fibrillation who were referred for a treadmill test between 2003 and 2012. The study subjects were prompted to walk faster and at a steeper grade in successive 3-minute intervals. Fitness level was measured according to the rate of energy expenditure the participants achieved, which was expressed in metabolic equivalents (METs).

Subsequently, patients in the population of interest were followed for new-onset atrial fibrillation, stroke, myocardial infarction, and death. The researchers then sought to discern the correlation between fitness and atrial fibrillation, stroke, and major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) after adjusting for factors such as age, sex, cholesterol level, kidney function, and prior history of stroke.

Over a median follow-up of 137 months, just over 3% of the study population developed atrial fibrillation. The researchers showed that 1 MET increase on the treadmill test was associated with an 8% lower risk of atrial fibrillation, 12% lower risk of stroke, and 14% lower risk of MACE.

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

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