A study has indicated that leisure-time physical activity increases the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF) in men.

Prof. Knut Gjesdal from Oslo University Hospital said that competing athletes seem to be at higher risk of developing AF than their sedentary mates. "Heavy exercise in leisure-time increases the risk of atrial fibrillation 2 to 3-fold in men. However, the general health benefits from physical exercise certainly outweigh the increased risk of this heart rhythm disorder,” said Gjesdal.

A Norwegian survey carried out between 1974 and 2003 showed that there was a graded independent increase in the risk of AF with increasing levels of physical activity in a population-based study among men with ostensibly no other heart disease. In women the data were inconclusive.

"Our selection of cases comprises only a minority of all lone AF patients. Some subjects with infrequent or mild episodes of AF are not included because they do not want long-term drug treatment,” Gjesdal said.

"In others the AF may have progressed to a permanent, accepted state, and then there is no longer indication for flecainide.

"In conclusion, there was a graded independent increase in the risk of AF with increasing levels of physical activity in this population-based study among men with ostensibly no other heart disease. For women the data are inconclusive,” Gjesdal added.

The study was presented at a press conference at the ESC Congress in Paris.

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