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
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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