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
MellanieSAF avatar

Good interview with our friend, Dr. Rachel Lampert, about afib in athletes:

Additionally, the site also provides links to some really good pros and cons articles about ablation in athletes:

Ablation of Atrial Fibrillation in Athletes: PRO

Ablation of Atrial Fibrillation in Athletes: CON


Patio avatar

I have been in NSR for ths past few weeks since a hospital stay and beginning Tikosyn.  Today I tried to play golf and on the 14th hole I suddenly went into major afib with hr 150 plus and serious palpations. Thankfully I live on the course and was able to go home and rest. Within the hour I reverted to NSR. Now I am worried. I don’t know what this means. Can I not play golf?  I had a previous episode some weeks ago on the course, before I was put on Tikosyn when I was using flecainide and within days I was in continuous aflutter. I also am concerned that when I have an episode I really cannot imagine ignoring it. I am so unsteady I CAN barely walk.  Everyone says just live. I am trying but feel at sea. I have been walking for exercise each day, but swear I feel worse when I do. Anyone have any good advice?  I had hoped Tikosyn was going to be the answer.  I am losing pun intended.

Prov18:10 avatar

I am concern with doing light at exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, planks, etc. I have had my CRT-D since 2014 at age 50 and have had several therapy shocks generally taking place in the morning after recently awakening. So I’m concern of trying to do light exercises. My EP doctors said it’s my decision knowing my rhythm issues. Any thoughts from others with first hand experience?


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