Are Athletes at an Increased Risk of AFib?
Participating in regular cardiovascular exercise is an important part of maintaining positive heart health. This is a fact reinforced in every health magazine and doctor’s visit. However, is it possible to overdo it when it comes to exercise? New research reveals that too much cardio may have a negative effect on your heart and even put you at risk for complications. Recently, scientists even discovered that high-intensity endurance sports could increase one’s chance of developing atrial fibrillation (AFib). Here is what you need to know about this new discovery.
What is AFib?
AFib is a form of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat that occurs when the heart is no longer able to contract and relax normally. It causes the upper chambers, or atria, of the heart to quiver, which hinders blood from moving into the ventricles correctly. This lack of proper blood flow increases the risk for clotting and can eventually lead to a stroke or heart attack if not treated properly. Blood thinners are typically prescribed to help reduce the risk.
Link Between AFib and Vigorous Exercise
According to researchers studying observational and retrospective studies, athletes who participate in high-intensity endurance activities are 2 to 10 times more likely to develop AFib than those with sedentary lifestyles. The primary study used to gather this information involved 16,921 healthy men who jogged between five and seven times per week and compared them to a group of men who did not exercise vigorously. The results showed that the men who jogged frequently had a 53 percent higher chance of developing AFib.
Further research is still needed to fully understand the link between intense cardiovascular activity and AFib. However, experts state that the connection is likely due to inflammation, increased vagal tone, atrial fibrosis, and atrial enlargement. There is also reason to believe that AFib affects athletes due to pulmonary vein triggers, performance-enhancing agents, and simply genetic factors.
If the condition remains controlled, many athletes who suffer from AFib are able to continue training as usual. However, if complications arise, they may want to abstain from high-intensity exercise or pursue therapy.
Moderate Exercise is Recommended
More recent studies have indicated that both rigorous exercise and the lack of exercise are associated with a higher risk of atrial fibrillation. Contradictory studies have shown that high-intensity exercise only increases the risk for AFib in men but lowers the risk in women. The one consistent result for both men and women, and the most common recommendation form of by doctors, is moderate amounts of exercise.
That is why it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, with regular amounts of light to moderate physical activity. This can include walking, swimming, or cycling for 30 minutes 4-6 times per week. Since everyone is different, it is important to speak with your cardiologist about how much exercise is right for you, along with what activities would best benefit your heart. Contact one of the experts at CVG to learn more about AFib and staying fit today.