Atrial Fibrillation at the Gym

Atrial Fibrillation at the Gym

Can I or should I exercise if I have AFib?

Always ask your healthcare provider to be sure. Regular physical activity is important. Before starting any exercise routine, check with your healthcare provider or cardiologist to find out what is reasonable and safe for you, given your specific physical condition and capabilities.

Most people, even those with AFib, are encouraged to get regular physical activity at a moderate or, in some cases, a carefully-controlled level. Some people experience exercise as a trigger for AFib symptoms, and others find that exercise helps get their heart back into a more normal rhythm.

Physical activity is important for a number of reasons, including:

  • It helps with maintenance of a positive, upbeat mood.
  • It regulates daily biological rhythms, thus helping you get a good night’s sleep.
  • It is an important component of weight control.

Should I be concerned about my heart rate during exercise?

Your recommended heart rate during exercise is based on many individual factors including medications, the size and shape of your heart’s chambers, and your heart’s response during exercise. For these reasons, it’s very important to get clear directions and ask for further explanation if you’d like to know the reasons for the recommendations you’re given.

Here are a few more tips to help you understand your heart’s response to exercise when AFib is part of the picture.

  • Take note of increased fatigue or light-headedness. It may be an important clue about your heart’s ability to keep up with the demands of exercise. If you feel faint or simply too tired to keep pace with your regular routine, ease off.
  • Report any significant changes in endurance. Let your healthcare provider know using specific terms when you can. For example, rather than saying, “I seem to be more tired lately.” you’ll provide a clearer picture by saying, “Two months ago, I was regularly running 3 or 4 miles without stopping. Last week I went jogging twice and got really tired and almost sleepy feeling before I had even gone a half mile.” These specific descriptions will help your provider know if additional tests should be run to look for any decline in your heart’s functioning.
  • Don’t worry too much about a lowered heart rate. If your AFib medications keep your heart rate from going up during exercise, it usually indicates that the medications are doing a good job of controlling your heart rate. If you are accustomed to regular exercise, it may feel unusual for your heart rate to remain low, but if you’re on a heart rate controlling medication like a beta blocker, a lowered heart rate – even during exercise – is expected.
  • Use an accurate measure of exertion. If you are accustomed to aiming for a specific target heart rate and medications seem to keep you from reaching your goal, consider asking your doctor for an alternate test of exertion like measuring how easy it is to talk, sing or carry on a conversation during exercise. These indicators can be good for checking your level of exertion, no matter what the pulse rate indicates.
  • Rest assured - you will still reap the beneficial effects of exercise, even if your heart rate is lowered by the medication.

If your healthcare provider has given you the all clear sign for exercise, you can start taking steps toward adding or keeping physical activity as part of your regular daily routine. Even without the added concerns of atrial fibrillation, getting adequate physical activity in your day has its own challenges, but start small with something you can enjoy like walking. The rewards of physical activity are good for your heart and your brain.

Learn more about overcoming barriers to fitness here.

Recent Discussions From The Exercise Forum
Edhammer avatar

I had my first ablation last Monday. EP came to see me before discharge. Basically said no lifting more than a gallon of milk for a week, no strenuous exercise until I can tolerate it. Otherwise, no restrictions. The nurse who discharged me had an entirely different plan. All kind of restrictions. No exercise for a month. No lifting more than 10lbs for two weeks. I’m going to call my EP today to get some clarification. Anyone else experience this?

Mellanie at avatar

This article, Sports Cardiology: Core Curriculum for Providing Cardiovascular Care to Competitive Athletes and Highly Active People, may be of interest to some of you. It is written for doctors and is rather complex, but may contain valuable insights (even if just other options) for competitive athletes.

(Coauthors of this paper include Dr. Mark Link and Dr. Rachel Lampert, both of whom have covered afib and exercise at our Afib Patient Conference.)



BobS avatar

I am a 71 year old male with a 20 year history of AFib.  It was controlled on medication (propafenone) until about 18 months ago.  Had a cryo ablation that did not work.  Was started on sotalol and it works well to control the AF.  I am grateful for that.


There is a problem, however, due to the betablocker effects of sotalol that limits my max HR to about 60.  This significantly limits my ability to exercise (which I enjoy), especially in hot weather.  My doctor has suggested that we could try dofetilide or amiodarone.  They both look like they has significant side effects.

Any thoughts or suggestions?




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