Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib or AF, is a medical condition that can cause an irregular heartbeat. Given that it also can cause some patients to experience symptoms such as chest pain, breathlessness, heart palpitations or worse, it’s understandable that many people with AFib wonder: Is exercise a safe choice for me?
Although you should always work with your doctor to develop a fitness plan that's right for you, here is some general guidance on how to approach working out if you have Afib.
The Benefits of Exercise if You Have AFib
For those with AFib, exercise can sometimes feel like a contradiction. Working out, of course, is generally recommended as a part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercising helps us lose weight and grow stronger, as well as maintain good heart health. But exercise also raises the heart rate, possibly triggering AFib. Patients with AFib also may feel fatigued even without activity, yet we know that exercise can increase energy. What is one to think?
Fortunately, the right type of exercise is often safe and even beneficial for those living with AFib. Moderate physical activity can decrease AFib. Again, before lacing up those walking shoes or hitting the gym, talk with your cardiologist to discuss your particular health circumstances. Through this conversation, you’ll be able to determine what level and type of exercise is safe for you.
Start on a Slow, Gradual Exercise Regimen
If you have AFib and your heart isn't pumping effectively, your body isn't receiving the necessary nutrients needed to function at its best. Also, if you're on blood thinners for stroke prevention, you may be hesitant to move around for fear of an injury that causes bleeding. While the prospect of exercising can raise a lot of concerns, by gradually developing a fitness regimen, those with AFib may experience relief in their symptoms.
When beginning a new routine, light to moderate exercise is always recommended. You’ll also likely be cautioned to monitor your body’s reactions. By frequently checking your heart rate, you’ll be able to maintain a safe rate of fitness.
Exercises like walking, swimming and cycling are activities that allow you to control the intensity, dialing it back as necessary. For instance, depending on your fitness level and health, try walking 5 to 10 minutes a day. In addition to slow cardiovascular exercise, gentle yoga or stretching also may be excellent methods for helping your body adjust to the demands of physical activity.
Of course, it's essential to avoid high-intensity or long workouts that could trigger symptoms. For those on blood thinners, you'll also want to avoid contact sports and activities that have a higher risk of injury, such as mountain biking. Lastly, make sure to keep an eye on the weather! Walking outside on a super hot day, for instance, can affect your body very differently than using a treadmill in an air-conditioned room.
With guidance from your medical professional, you can ease into an exercise program, making sure to pay attention to how you feel throughout the session.
Know When You Need to Stop
Although many people with AFib reap lots of benefits from a moderate fitness regimen, it's vital to know when to stop or even seek immediate medical care. The American Heart Association recommends keeping an eye out for these symptoms during exercise:
- General fatigue
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
- Shortness of breath and anxiety
- Faintness or confusion
Remember, when you have AFib, incorporating exercise into your life should be a gradual process full of guidance and support. Of course, it should also be fun! By understanding your body’s needs and limits, you’re far more likely to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
Learn More About Our Atrial Fibrillation Program
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common heart arrhythmia, affecting nearly 3 million Americans. Specialists with the Orlando Health Heart Institute’s Atrial Fibrillation Program are equipped with the most innovative technology and advanced methods to identify and treat your AFib for long-lasting heart health.Learn More