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Regular exercise after heart attack might halve risk of death over next few years

Should be recommended along with other lifestyle advice, say researchers

Caroline White

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Becoming more physically active after a heart attack may halve the risk of death, suggested preliminary research presented today at EuroPrevent 2018, a European Society of Cardiology congress.

Although it’s well known that physically active people are less likely to have a heart attack, and to live longer, it’s not clear what the impact of exercise after a heart attack might be.

The researchers therefore assessed the association between physical activity and survival in 22,227 Swedish patients who had had a heart attack between 2005 and 2013.

The survivors reported on their levels of physical activity 6-10 weeks and 12 months after their heart attack.

On both occasions, they were asked how many times they had exercised for 30 minutes or longer during the previous seven days. Their responses were classified as constantly inactive; reduced activity; increased activity; or constantly active.

A total of 1,087 patients died during an average monitoring period of four years.

Compared to patients who were constantly inactive, risk of death was, respectively, 37%, 51%, and 59% lower in patients in the categories of reduced, increased activity, or constant activity, after taking account of age, sex, smoking, and clinical factors.

Lead author Örjan Ekblom, associate professor, Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden, commented: "Our study shows that patients can reduce their risk of death by becoming physically active after a heart attack.”

He added: “Patients who reported being physically active six to 10 weeks after the heart attack but became inactive afterwards seem to have a carry-over benefit. But of course the benefits for active people are even greater if they remain physically active."

Dr Ekblom said the study provided additional evidence for healthcare professionals and policy makers to systematically promote physical activity in heart attack patients.

"Exercising twice or more a week should be automatically advocated for heart attack patients in the same way that they receive advice to stop smoking, improve diet, and reduce stress," he insisted.

"Our study shows that this advice applies to all heart attack patients," he continued. "Exercise reduced the risk of death in patients with large and small myocardial infarctions, and for smokers and non-smokers, for example."

The researchers didn’t look at what type of exercise patients did. "More research is needed to find out if there is any type of activity that is especially beneficial after a heart attack," he noted.

"Should patients do resistance exercise, aerobic training, or a combination, for example? Is walking sufficient or do patients need more vigorous exercise which makes them short of breath? Answering these questions will help us to give more specific advice."

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