How Cardio Could Help Irregular Heartbeat

Arrhythmia may be treated, prevented with cardio exercise in overweight atrial fibrillation patients

Could cardio be the key to treating irregular heartbeat?

A new study from Australia found that some patients with arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) can treat their condition effectively with cardio fitness — and have much better results than with weight loss alone.

"While weight loss is important for heart disease patients, especially those with arrhythmia, our study shows it's beneficial to have high cardiorespiratory fitness and continue to improve on that," said lead study author Prashanthan Sanders, PhD, MMBS, the director of the Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders at the University of Adelaide in Australia, in a press release. "An ideal treatment plan would include a focus on both."

Dr. Sanders and team looked at 308 overweight or obese patients with atrial fibrillation who enrolled in a weight loss and fitness program.

Atrial fibrillation is a condition characterized by irregular heartbeats that can interfere with proper blood flow to the rest of the body. In some cases, the condition can lead to stroke or heart failure. Most patients only experience weakness and shortness of breath, however.

Atrial fibrillation can be treated with lifestyle changes such as keeping a healthy diet, losing weight and exercising.

Dr. Sanders and team found that adding cardio to a healthier lifestyle could be especially effective.

The patients were divided into three cardio fitness groups: low, adequate and high.

After four years, 17 percent of patients in the low group were free from arrhythmia, compared to 76 percent in the adequate group and 84 percent in the high group.

To measure fitness, Dr. Sanders and team used metabolic equivalent (MET).

MET measures the amount of oxygen a person is breathing — the higher the MET score, the greater the heart health. In this case, MET was measured when the patients were resting.

Each point increase in MET brought arrhythmia risk down by 20 percent — twice as much as with weight loss alone.

In an accompanying editorial, Paul D. Thompson, MD, the chief of cardiology at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT, wrote, "What's most exciting about this new study is that it is the first to demonstrate that increasing exercise capacity reduces atrial fibrillation risk."

This study was published Aug. 21 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Funding sources and conflicts of interest were not available at time of publication.