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Weight Loss and Exercise are Critical for Obese Patients with Atrial Fibrillation

CardioSmart News

It’s never too late for patients with an abnormal heart rhythm to start exercising and losing weight, based on a recent paper that stresses the importance of physical activity and weight loss for the treatment of atrial fibrillation.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this paper reviewed the latest evidence on obesity and atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib, is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm, which affects an estimated 5.2 million Americans. While obesity is a major risk factor for AFib, some studies suggest that obese adults with AFib live longer than other patients. Experts worry that this association, known as the obesity paradox, provides false reassurance for obese patients living with AFib.

After reviewing existing evidence, however, authors found significant flaws in past research on the obesity paradox and atrial fibrillation. As they explain in their recent paper, it’s unclear whether obesity truly protects patients with AFib or if the association is due to other factors, such as age or medication use. Additional research is needed to better understand how overweight and obesity impact outcomes for patients with atrial fibrillation.

What we do know, explain authors, is that exercise and weight loss can help prevent patients from ever developing atrial fibrillation. Obesity is a well-established risk factor for AFib, and studies suggest that losing weight can help reduce that risk.

Recent evidence also continues to show that exercise and weight loss improve outcomes for patients with established atrial fibrillation. For example, results of the CARDIOFIT study, which were first published in 2015, found that fitness reduces symptoms and recurrence of atrial fibrillation. A similar trial published in 2016 showed that an exercise training program reduces episodes of AFib. Studies have also linked weight loss to a nearly six-fold increase in arrhythmia-free survival.

The take-home message, according to authors, is that we should put little stake in the obesity paradox when it comes to health. A wealth of evidence shows that regular exercise and a healthy weight improve outcomes in patients with existing heart conditions. Taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle can have significant benefits for both AFib and overall health.

Read the full study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Learn about CardioSmart's editorial process. Information provided for educational purposes only. Please talk to your health care professional about your specific needs.