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Study Reported Losing Weight Can Help with Irregular Heartbeat

Update Date: Nov 19, 2013 07:54 AM EST

People who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of developing other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In order to reduce these risks, heavier patients are often recommended to lose weight. In a new study, researchers are reporting that losing weight can significantly help people who have atrial fibrillation, which is a health condition where heart rhythm is fast and irregular.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the electrical signals in charge of the heartbeat are rapid and disorganized. When these signals are not functioning properly, the heart's upper chambers start to contract in an abnormal way and increase the person's risk of stroke. Atrial fibrillation can also contribute to other health conditions. Symptoms include heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and fainting.

"Weight loss will help most people who are overweight," said study co-author Dr. Prashanthan Sanders, director of the Center for Heart Rhythm Disorders at the University of Adelaide in Australia according to HealthDay. "Extra weight, through so many ways, has a significant impact on the atria [upper chambers of the heart]."

For this study, which lasted 19-months, researchers recruited 150 people who had a body mass index (BMI) greater than 27, which would classify them as either overweight or obese based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) guidelines. Half of the sample set was placed in the weight-management program for the first eight weeks. This program required the participants to adopt a very low-calorie diet that included only 800 to 1,200 calories per day. The meals consisted of two weight-loss shakes and one meal packed with proteins. This group of participants also followed a low-intensity exercise routine three times a week starting with 20-minute sessions. The exercise sessions increased gradually to 45 minutes. The remaining half of the group received advice on proper nutrition and exercise.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that people in the weight management group lost an average of 33 pounds. The other group only lost an average of 12.5 pounds. Regardless of the difference in the amount of weight that the participants lost, the researchers concluded that weight loss in general improved the participants' symptoms of atrial fibrillation. However, the group that lost more weight had greater reductions.

"Time and time again, any weight loss has been shown to help people," Dr. Gordon Tomaselli a former president of the American Heart Association said. Tomaselli is the chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Exercise is good for you. If you exercise more tomorrow than you did today, you're doing the right thing."

The study was published in the JAMA.

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