It’s not too late: Exercise after heart attack cuts mortality risk

Increasing physical activity after a heart attack could halve a person’s risk of dying over the following four years, suggests research presented April 19 at EuroPrevent 2018, a European Society of Cardiology congress.

“It is well known that physically active people are less likely to have a heart attack and more likely to live longer,” lead author Orjan Ekblom, PhD, an associate professor at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm, said in a press release. “However, we did not know the impact of exercise on people after a heart attack.”

The study included 22,227 Swedish patients who experienced myocardial infarction between 2005 and 2013. These patients reported their physical activity 6 to 10 weeks and 12 months post-heart attack and were categorized as constantly inactive, reduced activity, increased activity or constantly active.

After a mean 4.2 years of follow-up and covariate adjustment, individuals who were constantly active demonstrated a 59 percent reduced risk of death when compared to those who were constantly inactive. People with reduced activity—meaning they exercised more soon after the heart attack than they did a year later—showed a 37 percent reduced risk, while those who increased their activity between the two periods had a risk reduction of 51 percent.   

“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,” Ekblom said. “But of course the benefits for active people are even greater if they remain physically active.”

Ekblom said people should automatically be recommended to exercise at least twice per week following a heart attack, as physical activity appeared to benefit all patients regardless of the severity of their heart attacks or whether they were smokers or nonsmokers. However, more work is necessary to determine whether certain activities are more beneficial than others, Ekblom noted.

“Should patients do resistance exercise, aerobic training, or a combination, for example? Is walking sufficient or do patients need more vigorous exercise which makes them short of breath? Answering these questions will help us to give more specific advice.”