It is widely known that being fit can reduce the chances of suffering a heart attack, but a new study shows that it also could increase the odds of surviving a heart attack.
Writing in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Henry Ford Health System suggest those at risk of cardiovascular disease should start a fitness program to both stave off possible heart attacks, but also to boost chances of surviving the first one.
"We knew that fitter people generally live longer, but we now have evidence linking fitness to survival after a first heart attack," says Michael Blaha, M.D., director of clinical research for the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease and assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It makes sense, but we believe this is the first time there is documentation of that association."
For the study, researchers looked at the medical records of 2,000 men and women who had taken a treadmill stress test before their first heart attack.
From those records, the researchers were able to tell the relative fitness of each person by looking at their metabolic equivalent score, known as MET. The higher the score, the more fit the person is.
MET numbers range from 1 to 12, where “1 is considered the equivalent of sitting on the couch, 3 aligns with walking, 7 with jogging, 10 with jumping rope and 12 with sprinting.”
The most fit saw 40 percent fewer deaths from the first heart attack, while one-third of those with less fitness died within a year of their first heart attack.
Researchers caution that there are still questions remaining about the connection between fitness and surviving a first heart attack.
For one, they still don’t know if the fitter people had less severe heart attacks or if they had the same size attacks but survived them better. Increased cardiovascular fitness has been shown to increase blood flow to the heart, which could boost healing.
The American Heart Association says roughly 550,000 people in the U.S. have a first-time heart attack each year.