What do I need to know about exercise and AFib?

What do I need to know about exercise and AFib?


For starters, there are some key important facts to know about AFib and exercise. Some people find that exercise seems to cause their heart to go into atrial fibrillation, and their heart rate remains closer to normal when they are at rest.

Several studies suggest that atrial fibrillation is more common among trained athletes, and even previously trained athletes are at a greater risk of developing AFib when compared with a non-athletic or sedentary population. This appears to be especially true of older athletes and endurance athletes still training in their 40s and 50s. Although many of the reasons are speculative, studies suggest that years of intense exercise contribute to both chronic inflammation and also physiological changes in the atrium that eventually lead to increased risk of developing AFib. In some cases, detraining is recommended to lower risks and relieve symptoms.

AFib can reduce the pumping ability of your heart. During exercise, the body needs more blood to be efficiently delivered. If the heart is less efficient, you may notice that you fatigue more easily.

  • If you experience symptoms of lightheadedness or fatigue, do not chastise yourself for “laziness” or decide that you are “out of shape” and should push yourself harder.
  • Fatigue or light-headedness may be an important clue about your heart’s ability to keep up with the demands of exercise. Take note and let your healthcare provider know.
  • Start slowly, especially if you’ve not been exercising regularly.


With AFib, your heart’s rhythm and rate may change during exercise. Some people with AFib find that their heart rate and rhythm remains closer to normal when their body is either resting or relaxing, but intense physical activity causes their heart to go into atrial fibrillation.

  • Starting gently with ten to fifteen minutes a few times a week may help you evaluate whether your exercise triggers your heart into AFib.
  • Remember, some people are not aware of symptoms so you may be advised to monitor your heart initially.
  • If your healthcare provider has recommended that you monitor your heart rate or use a smartphone EKG reader, find out if you have special instructions for monitoring your heart’s activity during or after exercise.

Atrial fibrillation medications can alter your body’s response to exercise. Patients who take medications to slow their heart rate may find that their heart rate does not increase as much as they normally expect with exercise.

  • If your AFib medications keep your heart rate from going up, it usually indicates that the medications are doing a good job of controlling your heart rate.
  • If you are aiming for a 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 conversation during exercise. These can be good for checking your level of exertion, no matter what the pulse rate indicates.
  • You will still reap the beneficial effects of exercise, even if your heart rate is lowered by the medication.
Recent Discussions From The Exercise Forum
Dave1960 avatar

I'm a 59yo male who had an ischemic stroke March 4, 2020, with no warning signs or apparent risk factors.  Overall very minor impacts from the stroke.  I'm a distance runner, and was less than three weeks from my 20th marathon.  Anyway, after all the tests, i was diagnosed with A-Fib.  I'm back to running and lifting, but can't find any information on how aggressive I can be in exercise.  Also, my EP wants to do an ablation as soon as they get through the backlog of more serious heart procedures.  Currently on Eliquis and atorvastatin (chloresterol is not high at all, 202 non-fasting total day of stroke, 136 ldl).   Just looking for experiences from others who are active endurance athletes.  Thanks!

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.

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