Doctors recommend regular physical activity to reduce the risk of a heart attack, but the same advice applies even after a person has a heart attack. A new study from a collaboration between the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences and Gothenburg University shows that regular exercise after a heart attack reduces the risk of death by 50 percent.
The new study provides evidence for healthcare professionals to recommend to their heart attack patients to exercise regularly even after the attack, similarly to the way doctors would recommend smoking cessation, healthy eating, and avoiding stress.
"It is well known that physically active people are less likely to have a heart attack and more likely to live longer," explained lead author Dr Örjan Ekblom. "However, we did not know the impact of exercise on people after a heart attack."
Every year, 735,000 Americans have a heart attack, and heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women worldwide.
The new study included 22,227 heart attack patients who reported their physical activity once between six and ten weeks after the attack and once one year after the attack. The survey asked the patient how many times they had exercised for 30 minutes or longer during the previous week. Based on their responses, patients were divided into four different groups: constantly inactive, reduced activity, increased activity, and constantly active.
Researchers found that the risk of death was 37 percent lower for patients in the reduced activity category, 51 percent lower for increased activity, and 59 percent lower for constantly active, all compared to patients in the constantly inactive category. Just over one thousand patients died during an average follow-up of 4.2 years.
"Our study shows that patients can reduce their risk of death by becoming physically active after a heart attack,” Ekblom explained. “Patients who reported being physically active 6 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."
In the future, Ekblom and his team plan on further identifying specific types of physical activity that would be most beneficial for heart attack survivors, whether it be resistance exercise, aerobic training, or a combination of the two.