Background: It is controversial whether the onset of myocardial infarction occurs randomly or is precipitated by identifiable stimuli. Previous studies have suggested a higher risk of cardiac events in association with exertion.
Methods: Consecutive patients with acute myocardial infarction were identified by recording all admissions to our hospital in Berlin and by monitoring a general population of 330,000 residents in Augsburg, Germany. Information on the circumstances of each infarction was obtained by means of standardized interviews. The data analysis included a comparison of patients with matched controls and a case-crossover comparison (one in which each patient serves as his or her own control) of the patient's usual frequency of exertion with the last episode of exertion before the onset of myocardial infarction.
Results: From January 1989 through December 1991, 1194 patients (74 percent of whom were men; mean age [+/- SD], 61 +/- 9 years) completed the interview 13 +/- 6 days after infarction. We found that 7.1 percent of the case patients had engaged in physical exertion (> or = 6 metabolic equivalents) at the onset of infarction, as compared with 3.9 percent of the controls at the onset of the control event. For the patients as compared with the matched controls, the adjusted relative risk of having engaged in strenuous physical activity at the onset of infarction or the control event was 2.1 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.1 to 3.6). The case-crossover comparison yielded a similar relative risk of 2.1 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.6 to 3.1) for having engaged in strenuous physical activity within one hour before myocardial infarction. Patients whose frequency of regular exercise was less than four and four or more times per week had relative risks of 6.9 and 1.3, respectively (P < 0.01).
Conclusions: A period of strenuous physical activity is associated with a temporary increase in the risk of having a myocardial infarction, particularly among patients who exercise infrequently. These findings should aid in the identification of the triggering mechanisms for myocardial infarction and improve prevention of this common and serious disorder.