Running May Prevent the Most Common Abnormal Heart Rhythm

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Obesity is one important risk factor for the development of an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation. Just as with improving other conditions associated with excess weight, a little intense exercise like running can help prevent a-fib.

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Atrial fibrillation is an irregular, rapid heart rate that can cause poor blood flow. During a-fib, the heart’s two upper chambers (known as the atria) are out of sync with the lower two chambers (the ventricles).

Symptoms include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and weakness. Although a-fib itself isn’t a life-threatening heart condition, it can lead to serious medical problems if left untreated, such as forming clots that block blood flow.

Afib risk rises with age, but there are other conditions that can increase risk such as having high blood pressure and diabetes. Those who have metabolic syndrome are also at greater risk.

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Researchers with Stanford University have found that, especially in older women, increasing the amount of physical activity like running can reduce the risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Those who were most active (ie: walking briskly for 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week) reduced their risk by 10%. Intense activity for shorter periods of time, such as running at least two hours per week, reduced the risk by 9%

"We found the more physically active the women were, the less likely it was that they would develop atrial fibrillation," said Marco V. Perez, M.D., lead author of the study and independent instructor in cardiovascular medicine. "Also, the more obese the women were, the more they benefited from having greater degrees of physical activity."

Obviously, exercise helps improve many factors related to heart health:
• Exercise can help maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of developing heart disease.
• Exercise can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Exercise can also help with blood sugar control
• Exercise helps manage stress.
• Exercise strengthens the cardiovascular system.

Journal Reference:
Farnaz Azarbal, Marco V. Perez et al. Obesity, Physical Activity, and Their Interaction in Incident Atrial Fibrillation in Postmenopausal Women. JAHA, August 2014 DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.114.001127

Additional Resource:
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

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