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Heart risk for extreme skiers

Wednesday June 12th, 2013

Skiers who take part in long-distance cross-country races are at a raised risk of heart rhythm problems, new research shows.

Although regular exercise can protect the heart, strenuous physical exercise may trigger life-threatening problems with the heartbeat's rate or rhythm in some people, say Dr Kasper Andersen of Uppsala University Hospital, Sweden, and colleagues in today's (12 June) European Heart Journal.

Autopsies of athletes who suffered sudden cardiac death during training almost always show heart abnormalities that may or may not have been caused by endurance training.

In this study, the researchers looked at the link between number of completed skiing races, finishing time, and risk of heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) in male skiers taking part in Vasaloppet, a 90 km cross-country event.

Among the 52,755 participants, 919 experienced arrhythmia during the follow-up of seven to 16 years. Analysis showed that those who completed the most races had a higher risk of hospitalisation for any type of arrhythmia - 30% higher for those doing five or more races compared with one. Risk was also 30% higher in those with faster finishing times.

However, completing more races and finishing faster were not linked to the heart rhythm problems called supraventricular tachycardias, ventricular tachycardia, or ventricular fibrillation, and also not linked to cardiac arrest.

The authors conclude that the heart risk for endurance skiers is "mainly driven by a higher incidence of atrial fibrillation and bradyarrhythmias".

Dr Andersen commented: "It is important to emphasise that numerous studies have shown that exercise protects against heart disease and numerous other diseases. Our findings should not deter people from exercising, especially as we did not find any increased incidence of arrhythmias leading to sudden death."

Andersen, K. et al. Risk of arrhythmias in 52,755 long-distance cross-country skiers: a cohort study. European Heart Journal 12 June 2013 doi:10.1093/eurheartj/eht188.

Tags: Europe | Fitness | Heart Health | Menís Health

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