Exercising for less than 30 minutes every day combined with weight loss drastically improves and can even eliminate a person’s diagnosis of one of Australia’s most common heart rhythm disorders, new South Australian research reveals.
Researchers at SAHMRI’s Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders found patients who live with atrial fibrillation significantly improved their long-term health outcomes simply by improving their fitness through a structured exercise program.
About 240,000 Australians suffer from atrial fibrillation, which causes frequent shortness of breath, dizziness and an increased risk of stroke and heart failure.
The groundbreaking study, lead by some of the state’s top cardiologists including Professor Prash Sanders and Dr Rajeev Pathak, followed more than 300 overweight and obese people diagnosed with the common heart disorder for a period of four years.
Patients who gained fitness through exercising for about 200 minutes every week — or less than 30 minutes per day — were almost four times more likely to be free from atrial fibrillation after four years compared to those who gained little or no fitness in the same time.
“One of the most striking findings of this study was that in patients who gained the most fitness, 61 per cent were free from atrial fibrillation at final follow up, without the need for anti-arrhythmic medication or surgical procedures compared to only 18 per cent of those who didn’t achieve such gains,” lead author Dr Pathak said.
“Importantly we also found that improving fitness also enhanced the benefits of losing weight, confirming that exercise and weight loss should be recommended together.”
Fitter patients also improved their cardiovascular risk factors including blood pressure, cholesterol and heart structure.
Study co-author Dr Adrian Elliot said the study highlighted the long term benefits of fitness, weight loss and being healthy.
“We were surprised by how much fitness improved the outcomes of these patients over and above the benefit they got from weight loss alone,” he said.
Dr Elliot said the next stage of the study was to find out exactly how exercise played its part in improving the outcomes of people diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.
“It may be it (exercise) corrects and normalises the electrical activity in the heart,” he said.
Heart Foundation SA chief executive officer Dr Amanda Rischbieth said heart disease was the single biggest killer of Australians but was largely preventable.
“As highlighted in this latest research, it is imperative that we all address modifiable risk factors of heart disease including atrial fibrillation,” she said.
“These risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight and physically inactive or suffering from depression or social isolation.”
The study, supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Heart Foundation, was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology this week.