New research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2023 has shown that higher levels of physical fitness are associated with a lower risk of having a stroke or developing atrial fibrillation.
The study included over 15,000 participants who took a fitness test at baseline. The fitness test, called the Bruce protocol, required participants to walk uphill on a treadmill in three-minute intervals, each of which required participants to walk faster and at a steeper grade. The test estimated the participants’ physical fitness, which was calculated based on their rate of energy expenditure and expressed in metabolic equivalents (METs). The participants were then followed-up with for a median of over 11 years, during which the development of atrial fibrillation, stroke, heart attack, and death were monitored.
The results showed that physical fitness significantly reduced the chances of developing atrial fibrillation and other cardiovascular issues. For every additional MET on a participant’s treadmill test, that participant had an 8% lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a 12% lower risk of having a stroke, and a 14% lower risk of having a major adverse cardiovascular event, defined as experiencing a stroke, heart attack, or cardiovascular death.
The authors noted that this study points to the importance of physical fitness in improving and maintaining heart health, particularly with regards to stroke and atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder, affecting over 40 million people worldwide. People with atrial fibrillation have five times the risk of having a stroke compared to the general population. This study, along with recommendations from the American Heart Association, emphasize the important relationship between physical fitness and heart health.