Wearable devices show that physical activity may lower atrial fibrillation and stroke risk

May 28, 2021

Physical activity that conforms to medical and health association guidelines is associated with a lower risk of atrial fibrillation (Afib) and stroke, according to a study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), who analyzed nearly 100,000 individuals equipped with wrist-worn accelerometers to measure their movement.

The researchers’ findings suggest that data from wearables, including a new generation of devices with sensors that allow for Afib detection, could provide an opportunity for the public health community to promote moderate physical activity as an effective way to improve health outcomes, according to a news release from Mass General. The study was published in the European Heart Journal.

“Although some population-based studies have observed a lower risk of atrial fibrillation with exercise, the link has remained inconclusive in part because those studies relied on self-reporting by participants, a less than exact science,” says senior author Steven Lubitz, MD, MPH, Investigator in the Division of Cardiology at MGH and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

 “Wearable accelerometers, on the other hand, provide an objective and reproducible measure of physical activity. What we found was that activity in accordance with guideline recommendations is indeed associated with substantially lower risks of both atrial fibrillation and stroke.”

Nearly 100,000 members of the UK Biobank agreed to wear accelerometers — electromagnetic devices that measure body movement and orientation to infer certain activities — or seven days. MGH researchers then compared that data with later diagnoses of atrial fibrillation and stroke among participants, most between 55 and 70 years of age, reported to the Biobank from 2013 to 2020.

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