Exercise reduces risk of atrial fibrillation

More than 1 million U.S. women are affected by a common heart condition that significantly increases the risk for stroke and death.

Atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat, causes symptoms, such as shortness of breath, palpitations and weakness. Treatment typically includes blood thinners and a surgical procedure called cardiac ablation.

"It can go to the heart and cause a heart attack or go to your arm and cut off blood flow to your arm. Wherever it goes, it's no good," Dr. Joseph Lee, the director of the Chest Pain Center at Glendale Adventist said.

But now researchers say people can reduce their risk with a simple recommendation: exercise.

Researchers looked at 10,000 post-menopausal women and their exercise habits. They found women who had the most activity had a 10 percent lower chance of having a future episode of atrial fibrillation.

"When people exercise they increase their vagal tone, so the heart rate starts to go on the lower side... That's actually good for you," Lee said.

The study in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at associations, so it doesn't fully explain why exercise helps regulate heart rate.

Lee said exercise may help patients reduce others risk factors, which includes obesity and high blood pressure.

He recommends heart patients talk to their doctor before starting any exercise program.

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