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What is the correlation between sport and heart health??
Regular physical activity is universally recognized as a key element in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, it is important to understand that even what is beneficial in adequate doses can become counterproductive when taken in excess. This concept also applies to sports. While exercise plays a vital role in promoting overall well-being, it’s the intensity of the activity that really makes a difference. Recently, a study published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine examined the relationship between intense training and heart health, highlighting some important findings.
Intense training and the risk of atrial fibrillation
According to the results of this research conducted on a sample of almost a thousand athletes, including runners, cyclists and triathletes, years of intense training, resistance and participation in competitions can help increase the development of atrial fibrillation, especially in men, compared to the general population . Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, characterized by an irregular heartbeat caused by the loss of contractile efficiency of the atria. Importantly, this study focused on “veteran” athletes and does not imply that physical activity in general is bad for the heart.
Dosing physical activity like a drug
According to Dr. Gianfranco Beltrami, an expert in Sports Medicine and Cardiology and vice president of the Italian Sports Medicine Federation, this study confirms that grueling sessions of physical activity conducted at high intensity, especially in old age, can cause more harm than good. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop moving. Moderate and regular physical exercise improves the effectiveness of the immune system, the general well-being and the efficiency of all the organs and systems of our body, slowing down the aging process.
The importance of spotting the signs of overtraining
The human body has a way of signaling when you’re overtraining. Overtraining syndrome occurs when the stress accumulated during physical activity exceeds the athlete’s ability to recover. Some of the main symptoms of this condition include decreased performance, fast heart rate or palpitations, persistent tiredness even after rest, difficulty sleeping or irregular sleep, persistent body aches, mood swings, anxiety and increased susceptibility to colds.
The impact of physical activity on the heart
Physical activity causes changes in the heart, usually in a positive way. During exercise, muscles require a greater amount of oxygen than at rest. As a result, your breathing rate increases to deliver more oxygen as your heart pumps more blood to your organs. Over time, this effort helps strengthen the heart and adapts the cardiovascular system to the practice of physical exercise. Therefore, the habit of physical exercise induces a structural remodeling known as “athlete’s heart”. Furthermore, the cardiovascular neurovegetative system that regulates heart rate adapts functionally, leading to a reduction in heart rate at rest and during physical effort. These adaptations improve the efficiency of the cardiovascular system and contribute to the physical and mental health benefits of physical activity.
Training with atrial fibrillation
Many people wonder if it is possible to exercise if you have atrial fibrillation. According to experts, slow-paced activities such as walking or cycling can be practiced with the favorable opinion of the cardiologist or sports doctor. In fact, regular exercise can reduce the frequency and severity of atrial fibrillation episodes, as well as lower blood pressure and resting heart rate.
Diagnosis and management of atrial fibrillation
The diagnosis of atrial fibrillation is based on the recording of the arrhythmia using an electrocardiogram. It is important to underline that this arrhythmia can manifest itself in different forms: permanent, paroxysmal or persistent. However, many patients may not have obvious symptoms, making medical advice crucial if you experience an irregular pulse or indications from wearable devices such as smartwatches. Atrial fibrillation is associated with an increased risk of stroke, as the arrhythmia causes blood to stagnate in the atria, promoting the formation of clots that can cause cardioembolic strokes. Therefore, it is essential to evaluate the individual risk of stroke, taking into account factors such as heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, history of previous stroke, vascular disease, age and gender.
Statistics on atrial fibrillation and stroke
Atrial fibrillation is a widespread condition, with a prevalence of between 2% and 4%. The incidence of this arrhythmia increases with age, predominantly affecting men. At the European level, the risk of developing atrial fibrillation affects about one person in three at the age of 55. In Italy, one million people live with this condition, with 120,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Importantly, atrial fibrillation is a public health problem, as it is responsible for a significant proportion of ischemic strokes.
Prevention of cardioembolic stroke from atrial fibrillation
Prevention of cardioembolic stroke is a fundamental aspect of individual and public health. There are risk scores that combine factors such as heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke history, vascular disease, age, and gender to assess the risk of cardioembolic stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation. Doctors can prescribe treatments with anticoagulant drugs to reduce the risk of stroke.
Is sport good for heart health?
Regular physical activity is an essential element for general well-being, but it is important to dose it correctly. Excessive intense training can increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. Moderate and regular physical activity has numerous benefits for heart and general health. It is vital to listen to the body’s signals to avoid overtraining syndrome. If you have atrial fibrillation, it is important to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and management of the condition, in order to reduce the risk of complications such as stroke. The prevention of cardioembolic stroke from atrial fibrillation is a priority objective to ensure a better quality of life and cardiovascular health.