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
Lolo avatar

Are there any weightlifters here on the board? Are you still lifting post-AFIB diagnosis?


My docs have given me the greenlight to lift, but I wonder about the longterm risks and benefits...

Isabella avatar

I am a 66-year old female who has been diagnosed with paroxysmal AFIB (4 major episodes in the past 2 years) that took me to ER.  My cardiologist referred me to a Electrophysiologist Cardiologist and this EP is recommending the convergent-hybrid Ablation procedure.  He says that with paroxysmal AFIB I am a good candidate for this procedure and that there is a 90% chance that it will be successful in fixing my AFIB.  The goal is to eventually get me off of my Diltiazem and Sotalol and xarelto.  This procedure is a two-step process.  First step will be a minimally invasive procedure where a cardiothoracic surgeon will do an incision in the area of the sternum and ablate the outside of the heart.  I will stay in the hospital for 3 to 4 days.  6 weeks later, the EP will go through the groin and ablate the inside of the heart, with a overnight hospital stay.  I would like to hear from anyone who has had this procedure.  Was it successful?  Pros and cons, experiences, etc?t


bshersey avatar

When I first posted in this forum, it was June and I was still having chest pain from my Feb. 28 ablation.

My cardiologist had given me the OK by April to resume normal exercise with a max heart rate of 140. But with the ongoing chest pain, I didn't really have the confidence to push it. And then a few weeks ago, I got some major palpitations from walking a long way in the heat.

So this week, with the intense tropical heatwave here in Boston, I finally broke down and joined a gym, so I could try working out in the air conditioning. Makes sense. My company pays for the gym and the time off to work out. I got on the treadmill, started jogging and felt OK! Today, my second day at the gym, I felt so good I even pushed myself a little further, getting my heart rate up to 140 for about 15 minutes.

I feel great. No afib. No palpitations. No chest pain. And it's really given me more everyday confidence in my heart, helping me ease back further into a regular lifestyle.

I know I'm never out of the woods with afib. But today, I feel pretty good.

 

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