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
outspokn avatar

I am a 67 yr old male who has been riding bicycles since my mid-30's and was diagnosed last week. My cardiologist has me on atenolol (25mg) flecainide (50mg bid) and Pradax (150mg). I have read the Haywire Heart. While I do not rise to the level of an elite or masters athlete, I have been riding my bike 5-6,000 miles a year. 


I started the meds 5 days ago. I have been out on my bike twice and it feel lke I have aged a decade overnight. The atenolol had dropped my resting heart rate to mid-30's. When riding, if my  heart rate gets anywhere near 100, it feels like I am back limbing the alps. As a result, I am seriously considering ablation. I know it is not guaranteed but what in life is. 


I have two questions. First will my body adjust to these drugs and will I be able to ride somewhere near my former self while taking them? Second, I am somewhat mobil and going out of network doesnt scare me. So I would appreciate hearing about ablation experiences good or bad and the hospitals where you had yours done. 


Thanks for your help.


 

ken37712 avatar

I am in early 50s and diagnosed with lone AFib and persistent. An active runner, run 3 miles per day and keeping heart rate below 155. Generally don't feel the symptom except intense exercise. Nurse Practitioner suggested to consider Catheter Ablation (CA) due to my young age and persistent.

Options presented to me are: 1) Do nothing, 2) Cardioversion then medication, 3) Medication only 4) CA 5) Maze Surgical

I am scheduled for 1st Cardioversion + med but thinking long term between Med only or CA or even Maze but like to hear experiences from others who are in similar situation.

bshersey avatar

I celebrated my five-month anniversary of my one and only ablation (so far) by walking more than 15,000 steps in the 85-degree heat on Sunday afternoon here in Boston. That's nearly 6 miles and 3 hours of walking in the heat. At the time, I felt up to the challenge.

Boy did I regret it late Sunday night. I woke up with chest pain and palpitations. Neither were serious enough to make me worry I was having a heart attack or needed to go to the ER. Plus, I have passed every cardiac test in the world over the past few months and have received great reports from cardiologist and EP.

But my heart kept jumping between its normal 55-60 bpm and 95-100 bpm for the rest of the night. Not uneven beats like my afib. Just faster all of a sudden and then back to slower a few minutes later. I couldn't sleep and proceeded to drown my sorrows by eating a whole box of coconut popsicles while lying awake from 2 to 6 a.m., when I finally got up. 

I went to work, but took the day off from walking my usual 10,000-plus steps (a normal day for me with my regular commute is about 5,000 steps) and came home after work, ate a sensible and early dinner, took all my nightttime meds (sotalol, etc.), and got a good night's sleep. I also cut out the licorice extract supplement I had been taking for reflux because I read (while I was awake overnight) that it can cause afib and high blood pressure.

Today, after a night of rest and no licorice supplement, I feel much better and even went out for my usual noontime walk around Boston Common and the Public Garden. But I went much slower in the heat.

Important lesson learned: Even though I often feel recovered from the ablation five months ago, I still have a ways to go for full recovery and need to continue taking care of myself and not overdoing it. I'm 57, not 27 or even 37. This is going to take a while, I guess.

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