Exercise and the risk of sudden cardiac death

Herz. 2006 Sep;31(6):553-8. doi: 10.1007/s00059-006-2885-8.


Sports activity may precipitate acute fatalities in both adults and young competitive athletes with concealed heart diseases. However, the risk-benefit ratio of physical exercise differs among these two age groups. In adolescents and young adults, competitive physical exercise is associated with a significant increase of the risk of sudden death. Sports is not "per se" cause of the enhanced mortality in this age group; rather, it acts as a trigger of cardiac arrest in those athletes who are affected by silent cardiovascular conditions, mostly cardiomyopathy, premature coronary artery disease and congenital coronary anomalies, which predispose to life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias during physical exercise. In adults, on the other hand, physical activity can be regarded as a "two-edged sword": vigorous exertion increases the incidence of acute coronary events in individuals who did not exercise regularly, whereas habitual physical activity reduces the overall risk of myocardial infarction and sudden coronary death by preventing development of coronary artery disease and progression of coronary atherosclerotic lesions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Coronary Disease / prevention & control
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / epidemiology*
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / prevention & control
  • Disease Progression
  • Exercise*
  • Heart Arrest / etiology
  • Heart Diseases / mortality*
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Infarction / prevention & control
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sports / physiology*