The risk of instantaneous death due to ventricular fibrillation was compared in resting and exercised dogs. Three weeks before testing, all dogs had bipolar left ventricular stimulating electrodes implanted and a reversible snare was placed around the anterior descending coronary artery. The dogs were randomly assigned to either an exercise (13 dogs) or a control (12 dogs) group. We measured ventricular fibrillation thresholds (VFTs) in all dogs before and after inducing ischemia by tightening the snare while the dogs stood at rest. The next day, nonischemic and ischemic VFTs were redetermined for control dogs at rest and for the exercise group during a treadmill run. No statistically significant changes were noted within and between groups in nonischemic or in ischemic VFTs at rest. In five exercise dogs, spontaneous ventricular fibrillation occurred during the first 8 minutes of the ischemic run. For the eight other exercise dogs, running increased the mean drop in VFTs during coronary occlusion by 23% (p<0.01). These data suggest that moderate dynamic exercise may greatly enhance the risk of ventricular fibrillation and sudden death in the presence of myocardial ischemia. In the absence of ischemia, exercise does not appear to increase vulnerability to ventricular fibrillation.