News | May 18, 2015

Safe Levels of Exercise Differ for Male and Female Atrial Fibrillation Patients

Data from nearly 380,000 patients reveals moderate exercise is beneficial, yet vigorous exercise can increase AF risk for men

safe exercise level, atrial fibrillation, AF, men, women, HRS

May 18, 2015 — New research reports significant differences between men and women with atrial fibrillation (AF) and the safety of intense physical activity. The study found that both moderate and vigorous levels of exercise are safe for women living with AF. However, vigorous levels of exercise are associated with an increased risk of AF in men. The research, analyzing data from a large-scale or robust patient population of nearly 380,000 patients, was presented at Heart Rhythm 2015, the Heart Rhythm Society’s 36th annual scientific sessions.

AF is the most common arrhythmia and affects more than 2.7 million American adults. It is characterized by a rapid and irregular heartbeat when the top chambers of the heart (the atria) quiver (fibrillate) erratically, sometimes faster than 300 times per minute. Regular physical activity is well-known to reduce the risk of many cardiovascular diseases; however, the correlation between physical activity and the risk of AF is difficult to define.

The study involved a meta-analysis of 14 prospective observational studies including approximately 379,884 patients. Two of the 14 studies involved only female participants, two studies reported both male and female, and the remaining 10 studies included male participants. Studies were included if they evaluated trials that reported a relation between incident AF and the level of intensity of exercise.

Among men, vigorous exercise was associated with a 90 percent (1.9 times) increased risk of AF, while moderate exercise lowered the incidence of AF by 19 percent. In women, both moderate and high intensity levels of exercise were found to be beneficial. Moderate exercise reduced the risk of AF in women by 24 percent and by 15 percent when they participated in vigorous exercises.

“Sustaining a workout routine can be intimidating for patients with AF because they are concerned about how it will further affect their heartbeat and potentially trigger an AF episode,” said lead author Sanghamitra Mohanty, M.D., FHRS, senior researcher at the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute. “Now that we know about the advantages of moderate physical activity in both men and women, we are able to provide specific tips and recommendations on how patients can exercise safely and at the same time benefit from the protective effect of exercise on AF and improve their overall quality of life.” 

The study reinforces that it is safe for patients with AF to exercise. However, the results specifically shed light on safe levels of exercise intensity for both male and female patients living with AF. Patients with AF should consult their doctor to determine the best exercise plan to help prevent incidence of AF and to maintain a healthy heart.

For more information: www.hrsonline.org

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