Maintaining a healthy weight, following a diet low in unhealthy fats, eating more plants and exercising regularly are all fairly common of advice for preventing improving your heart health.
Lifestyle choices may help prevent heart attacks but what effect can they have in the instance of a heart event? New research by Henry Ford Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US found that the fitter a person is, the more likely they are to survive their first heart attack.
These findings suggest that higher aerobic fitness before a heart attack is associated with better short-term survival after the first heart attack.
“These findings suggest that higher aerobic fitness before a heart attack is associated with better short-term survival after the first heart attack,” says Dr Clinton Brawner, Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Senior Bioscientific Clinical Staff Researcher at Henry Ford Health System.
Published online in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the analysis is part of the Henry Ford Exercise Testing Project, a study of nearly 70,000 adults who completed a treadmill-based exercise stress test between 1991 and 2009.
For this particular study, researchers examined over 2000 patients who had suffered their first heart-attack after taking part in a stress test at Henry Ford Hospital. They found that patients with a higher level of fitness during their initial stress test were 40 per cent less likely to die within a year after their first heart attack.
What’s more, for each level of increased fitness they reached during the stress test, active patients reduced their likelihood of dying during the next year by eight to 10 per cent.
While up to 50 per cent of fitness may be based on genetics, physical activity is the only behavior we have that can improve fitness.
“We knew that fitter people generally live longer, but now we have evidence linking fitness to survival after a first heart attack,” says Dr Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease and assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University. “It makes sense, but we believe this is the first time there is documentation of that association.”
The findings are significant because it suggests that physical fitness should be included when considering risk factors for heart attack. “Our data suggests that doctors working with patients with cardiovascular risk factors should be saying ‘Mr Jones, you need to start an exercise program now to improve your fitness and chance of survival,” says Brawner.
“While up to 50 per cent of fitness may be based on genetics, physical activity is the only behavior we have that can improve fitness.”