Heart and Disease: What Can Lower Your Risk of Atrial Fibrillation?

Staying active and lean may lower your risk of atrial fibrillation, irregular heart rhythms that are linked to a higher risk of stroke. And if you already have atrial fibrillation, don’t expect fish oil pills to help.


Researchers monitored roughly 93,600 postmenopausal women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. After 12 years, the most active women (who walked briskly for at least three hours per week or did the equivalent exercise) had a 10 percent lower risk of atrial fibrillation than those who were sedentary.

Compared to normal-weight women, the risk of atrial fibrillation was higher in those who were overweight, and highest in those who were obese. Women who were obese and inactive had a 44 percent higher risk than those who were normal weight and active. However, the most active obese women had only a 17 percent higher risk.

In a second study, Canadian scientists randomly assigned 337 people with atrial fibrillation to either a daily placebo or fish oil pills that supplied 1,600 mg of EPA and 800 mg of DHA. After six months, there was no difference in how often the participants had episodes of irregular heartbeats.

The researchers also found no difference in markers of inflammation and oxidative stress between the two groups.

What to do: Lose (or don’t gain) excess weight, and shoot for at least a half hour of aerobic exercise every day, no matter what you weigh. If you have atrial fibrillation, don’t expect fish oil pills to keep your heart rhythm regular.

Sources: J. Am. Heart Assoc. 2014. doi:10.1161/JAHA.114.001127; J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 64: 1441, 2014.


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