Athletes are more likely to have irregular heartbeats than non-athletes – study
athletes are two and a half times more likely than non-athletes to have irregular heartbeats, studies suggest.
Researchers analyzed 13 studies between 1990 and December 2020 that examined the health of athletes who participated in sports such as cycling, running, swimming, Nordic skiing, orienteering, rowing, soccer , rugby and netball.
The studies included data on 70,478 participants.
Previous studies have shown that physical activity can improve cardiovascular health and is associated with reduced illness and death.
Younger athletes have a higher relative risk of atrial fibrillation than older athletes
However, new research suggests there is a threshold beyond which exposure to increasing levels of exercise is linked to heart problems, including atrial fibrillation – a condition in which irregular heartbeats increase the risk. stroke, heart failure and other heart problems.
The researchers found that the risk of atrial fibrillation was 2.46 times higher in athletes than in non-athletes.
He also revealed that those who played soccer, rugby or netball appeared to have the highest risk of atrial fibrillation compared to athletes in endurance sports such as Nordic skiing, orienteering, or skiing. rowing.
The study also analyzed athletes and non-athletes with cardiovascular diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, but found no significant difference in risk.
The researchers found that younger athletes, those under the age of 55, had a much higher risk (3.6 times or 360%) of atrial fibrillation than older athletes.
People aged 55 and older were 76% more likely to have the disease than non-athletes.
Data on female athletes were limited, making it difficult to examine the relative risk of atrial fibrillation by gender.
The researchers said: “Athletes have a significantly higher likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation compared to non-athletic controls.
“Younger athletes have a higher relative risk of atrial fibrillation than older athletes, however, exercise dose parameters – including training and competition history, as well as potential gender differences for risk of atrial fibrillation – require future research. “
Trudie Lobban, founder and CEO of the Arrhythmia Alliance and the AF Association, urged people to check their pulse as part of the activist group’s Know Your Pulse (KYP) campaign.
“Arrhythmias (heart rhythm disturbances) affect people of all ages, young and old, whether they are fit or not,” she said.
“Regular exercise, as part of a healthy lifestyle, is important in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, including arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation (AF).
“However, as this research shows, intensive exercise over a long period – that is, as seen in athletes – can increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. Therefore, it is so important that we all get to know the rhythm of our heart, not just our heart rate. “
Joanne Whitmore, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, gave advice to those who want to exercise but also have underlying heart problems.
“As a precaution, check with your GP before exercising if you have an underlying heart disease such as AF,” she said.
“If your GP agrees, aim for moderate intensity of the exercise, which means you’re breathing faster than normal, but you can still have a conversation. If you feel short of breath, you should reduce the intensity. Be sure to warm up before and calm down after exercise, as heart rate can change faster in people with AF.