Getting Started With Exercise

Getting Started With Exercise

We all want the benefits of regular physical activity:

  • Increased energy
  • Enhanced mental well-being
  • Better management of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol
  • Easier maintenance or achievement of a healthy body weight
  • Reduced risks of heart disease and stroke
  • Reduced risks of osteoporosis, cancer, and type 2 diabetes

But even with all these known benefits, most Americans do not get enough regular physical activity, and, according to a recent American Heart Association website survey, 14 percent say they don’t like exercise. So what can you do if you’re just getting started or you’d like to increase your motivation?

Keep it simple, make it enjoyable!

There’s no need to try to guilt yourself into enjoying activities that only leave you exhausted and sore. If you have the added stress of trying to manage a chronic heart condition like atrial fibrillation, it may even be more important to keep it fun.

Start by finding simple and small ways to make what you already like to do more active.

  • If you enjoy social outings, can you add a few minutes for physical activity? If you typically meet your friends for lunch, find out if anyone would like to do a lunch-and-stroll. Walking is okay and it’s a great way to exercise.
  • If you like to make new friends, get a walking partner by joining an AHA Walking Club, introduce yourself to someone at the gym, join a team or a walking group, find a neighbor to walk with or exercise with your family.
  • If you like to go shopping, how about window shopping for 30 minutes first while you get a brisk walk?
  • If you like to read, you might try listening to audiobooks or your favorite music while walking.

Addressing Common Obstacles

  • “I’m so busy. I just don’t have time.” Many people live with a packed schedule, but you can make your health a priority over life’s other demands. Even our nation’s presidents have set aside time to exercise! Try getting up just a few minutes earlier in the morning to take a brisk walk, or walk while taking calls you’d otherwise handle while sitting.
  • “I can’t afford a gym membership.” Walking is free! If it’s cold or rainy, head to one of the many shopping malls that open their doors early for walkers and joggers. Sometimes gyms run specials. Watch for these at the end of the year. Or consider buying an exercise DVD. Whatever you choose, find a way to start moving! Get started with these tips for long-term success.
  • “I got bored with exercise.” Try something new! Walk in a new location. There are so many ways to get active. Try tennis with some friends, soccer with your kids or even just switching from yoga to pilates. Your body will respond to the change, and you might notice firmer muscles or extra pounds melting off. Regardless, variety helps you stay more invested in living an active life. Here are some easy tips to get active.
  • “I feel too tired after a workout.” Fatigue with atrial fibrillation is normal, but if your healthcare provider has cleared you for exercise, you may just need to pace yourself. Walk before trying to jog. You may want to consider other reasons for your fatigue, too.
    • Are you pacing yourself and keeping your heart rate at the right level? (Keep in mind, those on rate controlling medications like beta blockers may have a slowed heart rate even during exercise.)
    • Are you getting enough sleep at night?
    • Are you eating food that fuels your body, or are you eating too much food that your body can’t use? - If you’re taking in large amounts of sugar, white flour, simple carbohydrates or overly processed foods, then you may experience periods of “highs and lows.” During these times, you may feel very tired and sluggish. To learn more about blood sugar and energy in our diabetes prevention and treatment section.
  • “I’m too old.” When you’re older, exercise plays a vital role in stamina and strength. Several studies document how regular exercise improves quality of life during the aging process. So if you’re exercising when you’re in your 80s, you just might feel like you’re in your 70s! Learn more about preventing heart disease at any age. If you’re in your senior years, learn more about getting fit at any age.
  • “I’m new to exercise,” or “I’m overweight and I don’t know where to start.” Is this you? It’s easy to perceive these issues as roadblocks to success. Don’t let them stop you. Everyone needs to start somewhere.

Determine Your Starting Place

Here are some steps to help get you started.

  • Assess yourself. Realistically, what can you do?
  • There’s no need to deny yourself a healthier life!
    • Can you walk a mile? How long does it take you?
    • Can you continue to walk at a brisk pace for 20 minutes? For 30 minutes?
    • Can you swim one lap?
    • How many push-ups can you do?
    • Can you bend down and touch your toes?
    • Your starting point is always based on what you can do! Try tracking your activity and look at it as a place to start and build up more as you are able. Use our printable activity tracker.
  • Add on gradually. Gradually increase your time or distance by setting goals. If you can walk 1 ½ miles in 30 minutes, your pace is three miles an hour. You can train your heart to handle a faster-paced walk using intervals. For example, every five minutes, try pushing yourself to walk one minute at a faster pace. Before you know it, the faster pace will be your new normal. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week (brisk walking, for example). Cardio exercise burns calories and benefits your heart and lungs. Strength training with weights or resistance bands is also recommended at least two times a week. Strength training builds muscle which, in turn, burns fat and helps your muscles and joints stay healthy for a long, physically active life. A combination of these two types of exercise is important for good health.
  • Many reliable resources are available to help you get started. Books, DVDs, podcasts and personal trainers are a few examples.
  • Are you still sitting on the couch? Put on your shoes and move your body! Turn on your favorite music and dance. Today is the day to start on the road to better health. Remember, it’s OK to start slowly and build up to your goal.
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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