Posted on Aug 17, 2021, 4 p.m.
Athletes are generally in great shape, and they can even appear to be the picture-perfect example of dedication, hard work, and health, but according to recent research, all of that sports activity might have negative consequences for the heart with the findings suggesting that athletes are almost two and a half times more likely to experience an irregular heartbeat.
The findings published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, indicate that those who play mixed sports like rugby, netball, and soccer may have the greatest risks compared to those who play endurance sports like rowing, skiing, and orienteering.
There is a substantial body of evidence indicating that physical activity can help to improve cardiovascular health and that it is also associated with reduced illness and mortality. But even these studies suggest that after a certain limit/threshold increasing the levels of exercise might be linked to heart health complications including but not limited to atrial fibrillation which can increase the risks of stroke and heart failure.
This continued study led by researchers at Canterbury Christ Church University on the possible negative effects was prompted after the collapse of a famous soccer player with heart failure on the field in an opening match. Their findings stem from a review of 13 studies published between 1990-2020 investigating the risk of irregular heartbeat involving 70,478 participants which included 6,816 athletes who took part in netball, skiing, rowing, orienteering, soccer, rugby, cycling, running, and swimming.
According to the study authors, the risk of AFib was found to be 2.46 times higher among athletes than it was among non-athletes; among those without cardiovascular disease athletes were 3.7 times more at risk than non-athletes for risk factors such as blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, and those younger than 55 had 3.6 times increased risk of AFib than older athletes even though the latter were 76% more likely to have the condition compared to non-athletes. To add to this athletes who participate in mixed sports rather than endurance sports were found to have a higher risk of an irregular heartbeat after further analysis.
The study was not without limitations such as having limited data on female athletes, and the analysis used research with different approaches such as case-control and cohort design, even with the limitations the study authors were still confident in their findings and conclusions stating that:
“Athletes have a significantly greater likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation compared with non-athlete controls,” the researchers conclude in their report. “Younger-aged athletes have a greater relative risk of atrial fibrillation compared with older athletes. However, exercise dose parameters, including training and competition history, as well as potential gender differences for the risk of atrial fibrillation requires future research.”
Article courtesy of Edward Fox Reading.
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