What is the correct ‘dose’ of exercise in relation to atrial fibrillation?

The relationship between atrial fibrillation (AF) and exercise is a complex one. There are two separate questions to consider when discussing exercise and AF. There first is does exercise reduce the risk of developing AF? And the second is what levels of exercise are appropriate amongst patients who have an established diagnosis of AF?

The level of exercise has been shown to influence the risk of developing atrial fibrillation. However, the relationship between exercise and atrial fibrillation is not simple. Low levels of exercise and poor cardiorespiratory fitness levels are associated with a higher risk of developing AF. On the other hand, high-intensity endurance training might also increase the risk of AF. Therefore, the right ‘dose’ of exercise may be important in minimizing the risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

Amongst patients who already have a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, exercise is a particularly important consideration. While it is common for patients with atrial fibrillation to feel nervous about exercise, the appropriate level of exercise is predicted to have a positive impact on AF and heart health in general. The optimal exercise programmes for patients with atrial fibrillation have not been fully defined but there is evidence to suggest that aerobic interval training improves symptoms, exercise capacity and quality of life in AF patients.