Running to a racing heart: Intense long distance exercise and your risk for AFib

As is the case with many things in life, moderation is key. In excess, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find something that ISN’T bad for you. That’s why the saying is AN apple a day keeps the doctor away, not 50 apples!

Here’s what the research says:This

  • Intense long distance training (like frequently doing marathons) can increase your risk of atrial fibrillation
  • Moderate exercise significantly lowers your risk
  • Exercise can prevent AFib from happening (when done in moderation), can improve the

Here’s what the research DOESN’T say:

  • That doing an intense exercise session causes AFib – it’s a long term accumulation.
  • That doing a marathon causes AFib

It’s all about risk and averages.

When I began looking into the research on atrial fibrillation (AFib) or a racing heart beat, I started to see this divide in what the research was telling us. There seemed to be a lot of controversy. What it showed was that exercise is beneficial to prevent the development, and ease the symptoms of AFib in individuals (regardless of your age).

There was also another side to this coin. They started to see this connection between people who participate in intense endurance sports and the risk of getting AFib. People who regularly participated in marathons saw about a 3x increased risk of developing AFib. It climbs more as you get older as well. There are a couple of theories as to why this may be the case but the evidence is fairly clear and consistent about this. It’s the classic “U” shape for risk. The sweet spot is in the middle.

But we don’t do anything super intense for our health. Professional athletes have often gone past the point of exercise for health. They are pushing their bodies to an extreme to reach a goal or break a record. When you are pushing that hard, you’re at a place where the risk of injury goes up and in this case the risk of the stress you’re placing on your heart causing AFib.

The point that I want to stress though … is this represents a fairly SMALL proportion of our population.

High intensity interval training has been done in persons with AFib who weren’t active and it helped with the symptoms of AFib and improved the quality of life of people with AFib.

Exercise HELPS with the symptoms of AFib and helps you live better with the condition in conjunction with your medication or while waiting for surgery.

Abed, H. S., Wittert, G. A., Leong, D. P., Shirazi, M. G., Bahrami, B., Middeldorp, M. E., . . . Sanders, P. (2013). Effect of weight reduction and cardiometabolic risk factor management on symptom burden and severity in patients with atrial fibrillation: A randomized clinical trial. Jama, 310(19), 2050-2060. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.280521 [doi]

Dalal, H. M., Doherty, P., & Taylor, R. S. (2015). Cardiac rehabilitation. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 351, h5000. doi:10.1136/bmj.h5000 [doi]

Faselis, C., Kokkinos, P., Tsimploulis, A., Pittaras, A., Myers, J., Lavie, C. J., . . . Moore, H. (2016). Exercise capacity and atrial fibrillation risk in veterans: A cohort study. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 91(5), 558-566. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.03.002 [doi]

Kapa, S., & Asirvatham, S. J. (2016). A MET a day keeps arrhythmia at bay: The association between exercise or cardiorespiratory fitness and atrial fibrillation. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 91(5), 545-550. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.03.003 [doi]

Manolis, A. S., & Manolis, A. A. (2016). Exercise and arrhythmias: A double-edged sword. Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology : PACE, 39(7), 748-762. doi:10.1111/pace.12879 [doi]

Posted in

Christina Prevett

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply