Exercise May Prevent Dangerous Irregular Heartbeats

Active women had lower risk of atrial fibrillation

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) An out-of-sync heartbeat can have dangerous health consequences. But exercise may offer a prevention method.

In a recent study, researchers asked women about their health histories and lifestyles. They then followed up with the women and tracked who developed an irregular heartbeat.

They found that active women had a much lower risk of irregular heartbeat than inactive women. Obese women benefited the most from more physical activity.

"Exercise regularly and safely as part of a healthy lifestyle."

The study was written by Marco Perez, MD, of Stanford University's Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease in California, and colleagues.

Atrial fibrillation, or AF, is an irregular heartbeat. AF can increase the risk of stroke and death. People with AF usually have faster heartbeats.

According to the authors of the study, obesity is a risk factor for AF.

The study authors looked at whether physical activity affected the link between obesity and AF. They recruited 81,317 women who had gone through menopause between ages 50 and 79 for the study.

About 25 percent of the women were obese, and 34.5 percent were overweight.

The researchers followed up with the women for an average of 11.5 years.

At the beginning of the study, the participants filled out surveys on their health and lifestyle, including physical activity levels.

Researchers also took the participants' blood pressure and body mass index (BMI) — a height-to-weight measurement.

The participants filled out a new survey annually.

Using hospital records, the researchers found out which women had been diagnosed with AF.

They found that 9,792 women developed AF during the study.

Also, higher BMI was tied to a higher risk of AF.

Compared to very inactive women, participants who were the most active had a 10 percent lower risk of AF. The most active participants walked briskly for about three hours per week or performed similar exercise.

The researchers also found that obesity increased the risk of AF the most among women who were very inactive.

They concluded that more exercise was associated with a lower risk of AF.

The study was published Aug. 20 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The research was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health and US Department of Health and Human Services. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 19, 2014
Last Updated:
August 21, 2014