Lifestyle Changes Today Could Mean No AF Tomorrow

Lifestyle Changes Today Could Mean No AF Tomorrow
Written by:Prof. Dr. Bianca Brundel

This article has been featured in Nature Reviews Disease Primers.

After extensive research into the socioeconomic and geographic risk factors associated with Atrial Fibrillation (AF), one cannot deny their role in contributing to the development of AF. The choices we make for ourselves in our lives, or at times the lack of choices we can make due to our means, can have a big impact regarding our propensity to develop AF. By this we mean the food that we eat, our habits and vices, our exercise routine, or lack of it. As such, where we live also affects said propensity, since it influences our lifestyle heavily.

Despite the many unknowns that still surround AF, there are certain facts that are undeniable:

  • Food and lifestyle are the main AF contributors
  • More people in the West develop AF than in Asian countries (with the exception of urban areas)
  • We should pay more attention to lifestyle changes

The main contributors to AF are food and lifestyle

There are many lifestyle factors that are associated with AF. We are already aware that we are more likely to develop AF as we age, however, what we must also take into account is that certain things highly increase the odds of AF. For starters, excessive use of alcohol, low-carbohydrate and high-fat intake, sleep apnea, sedentary and excessive physical exercise.

Generally speaking, if we were to divide the risk factor burden in 3 categories – optimal, borderline, or elevated -, taking into account the aforementioned lifestyle factors, an optimal risk factor profile would mean we have a 1 in 5 chance to develop AF.

However, if we add just one elevated risk factor, the odds start looking a little more bleak, with a 1 in 3 chance of being targeted by AF. Elevated risk factors range from smoking, to alcohol consumption, body mass index, blood pressure, diabetes, or a history of heart failure or myocardial infarction.

The West suffers higher rates of AF than Asian countries

Currently, more people in the West are affected by AF than, for example, in Asia. Caucasians have a relatively higher prevalence of AF at more or less 2%, while Asians’ lies around 1%. Taking into account that due to their proportionally older population, Asians have a much higher overall disease burden, yet their AF rates are significantly lower, one can’t help but come to the conclusion of just how impactful lifestyle risk factors are.

Particularly since the exception to this is found in Asian urban areas, where the AF index is comparable to that of the West today. Not only that, it is actually expected to expand exponentially in the following decades. In fact, it is estimated that urban lifestyle and diet changes will result in a rising incidence of chronic diseases like hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. This will cause China’s older population to suffer of AF 2.3 times more than the United States by 2050.

We must pay more attention to lifestyle changes in order to reduce the risk of AF

Clearly there is a link between urban lifestyle and higher risk factors when it comes to AF, and perhaps we are failing to acknowledge just how imperative it is to be aware of how our daily habits and vices. As small and harmless as they may seem, are actually putting us at risk of AF. Slight changes today, could translate into a healthy tomorrow.

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