Although exercise prevents cardiovascular disease and mortality, vigorous exercise and endurance athletics can cause atrial fibrillation (AF). However, no large cohort study has assessed the relationship between physical activity and AF in the general population. We assessed the effect of physical activity at different energy expenditures on the incidence of AF. We studied 501,690 individuals without pre-existing AF (mean age, 47.6 ± 14.3 years; 250,664 women [50.0%]) included in the Korean National Health Insurance Service database. The physical activity level was assessed using a standardized self-reported questionnaire at baseline. During a median follow-up of 4 years, 3,443 participants (1,432 women [41.6%]) developed AF. The overall incidence of AF at follow-up was 1.79 per 1,000 person-years. The subjects who met the recommended physical activity level (500–1,000 metabolic equivalent task [MET] minutes/week) had a 12% decreased AF risk (adjusted hazard ratio [HR]: 0.88, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.80–0.97), but not the insufficiently (1–500 MET-minutes/week; HR: 0.94, 95% CI: 0.86–1.03) and highly active subjects (≥1,000 MET-minutes/week; HR: 0.93, 95% CI: 0.85–1.03). The recommended minimum key target range of physical activity level was associated with the maximum benefit for reduced AF risk in the general population. The dose-response relationship between physical activity level and AF risk showed a U-shaped pattern. Although exceeding the key target range attenuated this benefit, it did not increase the AF risk beyond that during inactivity.
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