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Although commonly associated with cardiovascular disease or other medical conditions, atrial fibrillation may also occur in individuals without any known underlying conditions. This manifestation of atrial fibrillation has been linked to extensive and long-term exercise, as prolonged endurance exercise has shown to increase prevalence and risk of atrial fibrillation. In contrast, more modest physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of atrial fibrillation, and current research indicates a J-shaped association between atrial fibrillation and the broad range of physical activity and exercise. This has led to the hypothesis that the mechanisms underlying an increased risk of atrial fibrillation with intensive exercise are different from those underlying a reduced risk with moderate physical activity, possibly linked to distinctive characteristics of the population under study. High volumes of exercise over many years performed by lean, healthy endurance trained athletes may lead to cardiac (patho)physiological alterations involving the autonomic nervous system and remodelling of the heart. The mechanisms underlying a reduced risk of atrial fibrillation with light and moderate physical activity may involve a distinctive pathway, as physical activity can potentially reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation through favourable effects on cardiovascular risk factors.


Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

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Journal Article

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