Multiple epidemiological studies document that habitual physical activity reduces the risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), and most demonstrate progressively lower rates of ASCVD with progressively more physical activity. Few studies have included individuals performing high-intensity, lifelong endurance exercise, however, and recent reports suggest that prodigious amounts of exercise may increase markers for, and even the incidence of, cardiovascular disease. This review examines the evidence that extremes of endurance exercise may increase cardiovascular disease risk by reviewing the causes and incidence of exercise-related cardiac events, and the acute effects of exercise on cardiovascular function, the effect of exercise on cardiac biomarkers, including "myocardial" creatine kinase, cardiac troponins, and cardiac natriuretic peptides. This review also examines the effect of exercise on coronary atherosclerosis and calcification, the frequency of atrial fibrillation in aging athletes, and the possibility that exercise may be deleterious in individuals genetically predisposed to such cardiac abnormalities as long QT syndrome, right ventricular cardiomyopathy, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This review is to our knowledge unique because it addresses all known potentially adverse cardiovascular effects of endurance exercise. The best evidence remains that physical activity and exercise training benefit the population, but it is possible that prolonged exercise and exercise training can adversely affect cardiac function in some individuals. This hypothesis warrants further examination.
Copyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society.