Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac arrhythmia characterised by irregular atrial activity. AF is related to increased risk of thromboembolic events, heart failure, and premature mortality. Recent advances in our understanding of its pathophysiology include a potentially central role for inflammation and presence of cardiovascular risk factors. The role of physical activity and exercise in the development and progression of AF, however, are not yet fully understood. Physical activity is protective for modifiable cardiovascular risk factors, including those associated with AF. Indeed, emerging research has demonstrated beneficial effects of exercise on AF-specific outcomes, including AF recurrence post-ablation. Counterintuitively, the prevalence of AF in veteran endurance athletes seems higher compared to the general population. In this review, we discuss the novel evidence and underlying mechanisms underpinning the role of exercise as medicine in the development and management of AF, but also the counterintuitive detrimental role of excessive endurance exercise. Finally, we advocate regular (but not long-term high-intensity endurance) exercise training as a safe and effective strategy to reduce the risk of incident AF, and to minimise the associated risk of secondary cardiovascular events.

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PubMed