Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, and it involves the two upper chambers of the heart. The connection between atrial fibrillation and exercise is that people who suffer from atrial fibrillation find that they have less stamina and exercise capacity because their heart does not pump blood efficiently. Some studies have found that those who undertake a long-term aerobic exercise program are more prone to atrial fibrillation than others.
The heart is divided into four chambers, with the two upper chambers being the atria and the two lower ones the ventricles. A healthy heart pumps blood at a rate set by the sinus node found in the wall of the right atrium, which sends out impulses or an electrical current. The normal sinus rhythm is about 60 regular beats per minute. When the electrical current becomes irregular because of hypertension, carditis, pneumonia, lung cancer or other causes, the heart loses rhythm and beats irregularly. As a result, less blood is pumped throughout the body, and exercise capacity is reduced.
Though rarely life-threatening, sufferers of atrial fibrillation need to make some lifestyle changes. When someone has atrial fibrillation and exercise is a regular routine, then whether this should continue is something that needs to be discussed with a doctor. In many cases, moderate exercise is beneficial as long as the heart is not forced to beat too rapidly. High blood pressure is one of the causes of atrial fibrillation and exercise is one of the ways in which this cause can be controlled.
One of the goals of an exercise program is to increase muscle strength and stamina. In order to increase exercise capacity, short sessions of low-resistance strength training should slowly be replaced by longer sessions more often. Atrial fibrillation is usually intermittent, so the exercise program should be based on fatigue and tolerance levels. Anything that reduces the risk of heart failure and stroke, two complications of atrial fibrillation, should be encouraged.
Whether exercise actually causes atrial fibrillation has been the subject of long-term research. It has been found that those who exercise vigorously are 20 percent more likely to develop this condition. For men age 50 or younger who exercised vigorously five or more days a week, the risk increases by more than 50 percent. Although there has been no proof that exercise is a direct cause, the link between atrial fibrillation and exercise is considered to be a strong one.