Increasing physical activity after heart attack reduces the risk of death

Becoming more physically active after a heart attack reduces the risk of death, according to new research by Gothenburg University in Sweden.

The study, which followed more than 22,000 patients, found that those who became more physically active after a heart attack halved the risk of death within four years.

The study’s lead author, Dr Örjan Ekblom, said: ‘It is well known that physically active people are less likely to have a heart attack and more likely to live longer. However, we did not know the impact of exercise on people after a heart attack.’

The researchers assessed the association between physical activity and survival after a heart attack. Subjects included 22,227 patients in Sweden who had a myocardial infarction between 2005 and 2013.

Levels of physical activity were reported 6-10 weeks and 12 months after the heart attack. The difference between answers was considered a change in physical activity over the year following the heart attack.

On both occasions, patients were asked how many times they had exercised for 30 minutes or longer during the previous seven days. Patients were categorised as constantly inactive, reduced activity, increased activity, or constantly active.

A total of 1,087 patients died during an average follow-up of 4.2 years. The researchers analysed the association between the four categories of physical activity and death, after adjusting for age, sex, smoking, and clinical factors. Compared to patients who were constantly inactive, the risk of death was 37 per cent, 51 per cent, and 59 per cent lower in patients in the categories of reduced activity, increased activity, or constantly active, respectively.

Dr Ekblom said: ‘Our study shows that patients can reduce their risk of death by becoming physically active after a heart attack. 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.’

The researchers did not investigate what type of exercise patients undertook.