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Sep 09, 2014

Exercise Offsets AFib Risk in Obese Women

Exercise helps protect older women from an abnormal heartbeat, finds study.

Exercise helps protect older women from an abnormal heartbeat, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib, is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm in the U.S., affecting an estimated 2.7 million Americans. Although risk for AFib increases with age, older women are at especially high risk for this condition. Not only do women make up the majority of individuals with AFib who are more than 75 years old, women with AFib are at greater risk for stroke and death compared to men. To learn more about preventing AFib in older women, researchers enrolled postmenopausal women in a large study to see how exercise and weight impact risk for this condition.

Through the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, researchers followed more than 93,000 older women for 11-and-a-half years for the development of AFib. During the study period, 12% of women developed AFib. Not surprisingly, those at greatest risk for developing AFib were women who were obese and/or physically inactive. However, physical activity helped reduce AFib risk, even in obese women.

These findings confirm what many other studies have suggested—that staying active and maintaining a healthy weight are important to the prevention of atrial fibrillation, especially for older women. Findings also reinforce the message that some physical activity is always better than none, even for adults that are not an ideal weight. Not only does physical activity help promote a healthier weight, it also helps reduce risk for AFib.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.
  • How does atrial fibrillation differ in men and women?
  • Although risk for atrial fibrillation, or AFib, increases with age, women tend to develop AFib around 75 years of age (compared to 67 for men). Older women with AFib have significantly greater risk of stroke and death compared to men with AFib. The good news is that there are many treatment options for AFib that can significantly reduce risk of complications.

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Featured Video

AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.