Physical Activity May Reduce Sudden Cardiac Death Risk By Almost 50%

Sarfaroj Khan 

July 21, 2020


  • This meta-analysis suggests that high vs low level of physical activity may lower the risk of sudden cardiac death by almost 50% in the general population.

Why this matters

  • Findings highlight the importance of promoting physical activity for the primary prevention of sudden cardiac death as well as for overall health.

  • Further studies are needed to clarify which types and intensities of physical activity may be most beneficial.

Study design

  • 13 prospective studies met eligibility criteria after a search across PubMed and Embase databases.

  • Funding: Imperial College National Institute of Health Research Biomedical Research Centre and others.

Key results

  • Participants reporting the highest level of physical activity had approximately half the risk of sudden cardiac death vs those with the lowest level of activity (relative risk [RR], 0.52; 95% CI, 0.45-0.60).

  • In the dose-response analysis, there was a 32% reduction in risk of sudden cardiac death per 20 metabolic equivalent task (MET) hours/week (RR, 0.68; 95% CI, 0.55-0.86).

  • Although the test for non-linearity was not significant (Pnonlinearity=.18), no further risk reduction was observed beyond 20-25 MET hours/week.

  • The highest vs lowest level of cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death (2 studies; RR, 0.58; 95% CI, 0.41-0.81).


  • Risk of publication bias.

  • Study did not investigate the effects of specific subtype of physical activity.


Aune D, Schlesinger S, Hamer M, Norat T, Riboli E. Physical activity and the risk of sudden cardiac death: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Cardiovasc Disord. 2020;20(1):318. doi: 10.1186/s12872-020-01531-z. PMID: 32631241 Abstract.  

This clinical summary first appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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