Physical activity, resting heart rate, and atrial fibrillation: the Tromsø Study

Eur Heart J. 2016 Aug 1;37(29):2307-13. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehw059. Epub 2016 Mar 10.


Aims: The objective was to examine the association of physical activity and resting heart rate (RHR) with hospital-diagnosed atrial fibrillation (AF) in a Norwegian cohort.

Methods and results: This prospective study included 20 484 adults (50.3% men) who participated in the third Tromsø Study survey in 1986-87. At baseline, physical activity was assessed by a validated questionnaire, and RHR was objectively measured. Participants were followed from baseline through 2010 with respect to incident cases of hospital-diagnosed AF documented on an electrocardiogram. During a mean follow-up period of 20 years (409 045 person-years), 750 participants (70.5% men) were diagnosed with AF. Compared with the low physical activity group, moderately active individuals had a 19% lower risk of any AF [adjusted hazard ratio (HR) 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.68-0.97], whereas highly active had similar risk of AF. Vigorously active individuals showed a non-significantly higher risk of AF (adjusted HR 1.37, 95% CI 0.77-2.43). Risk of AF increased with decreasing RHR (adjusted HR 0.92, 95% CI 0.86-0.98 for each 10 b.p.m. increase in RHR), and RHR < 50 b.p.m. was a risk factor for AF (P < 0.05).

Conclusion: In this prospective cohort study, leisure time physical activity was associated with AF in a J-shaped pattern. Moderate physical activity was associated with a reduced risk of AF, whereas higher activity levels attenuated the benefits of moderate activity. Low RHR was a risk factor for AF. Our results support the hypothesis that moderate and vigorous physical activity may affect AF risk via different pathophysiological mechanisms.

Keywords: Arrhythmia; Atrial fibrillation; Exercise; Physical activity; Resting heart rate.

MeSH terms

  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Norway
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors