You’re an active man who wants to exercise but when you have atrial fibrillation (AFib), you likely have concerns about how it may affect you. It’s not uncommon for people to be cautious about working up a sweat, having sex, or engaging in physical tasks at home or work that might trigger an AFib episode.
Atrial fibrillation is a common cause of an irregular, often rapid heart rate causing poor blood flow. When the heart beats out of rhythm, it is known as heart arrhythmia. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. People with Afib have used terms such as, “the heart skips a beat, or it’s flip-flopping, or beating against their chest wall.” It’s estimated 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib
Exercising with AFib
Usually, exercise is encouraged as it can lead to a longer, healthier life. It can also slow your heart rate and lower blood pressure while relieving stress and anxiety. Studies show that compared with people with AFib who do not exercise, those who do:
- Have fewer AFib episodes
- Go to the hospital less often
- Report a better quality of life
However, having AFib means you will need to discuss with your doctor what limitations you may have and what level of physical activity you plan to do. Often someone with AFib will be on medications to keep their heart in rhythm or from beating too fast. This is why it is important to talk to your doctor about what level of exercise is safe. It’s usually best to start off slowly with short intervals of low-intensity exercise and with time, gradually increasing the length and intensity with your doctor’s permission.
Usually, moderate exercise such as walking can be done without raising the heart rate excessively. Moderate exercise is good for most people as it can decrease the risk of heart disease, improves sleep and mood, and helps with weight control. However, strenuous exercise is best avoided.
Reasons to exercise with AFib
- Strengthens your heart – When you exercise, your heart works harder, your blood vessels open and how well your blood moves throughout your body improves. This helps protect against other heart conditions, such as heart failure, that can develop in people with AFib.
- Can help with weight loss – Studies show that losing weight can help symptoms and episodes of AFib in some people. Coupled with a heart-healthy eating plan, being physically active can help you shed extra pounds.
- Reduces stress – Stress makes AFib worse. Exercise is a natural stress-buster, so find the time to get moving each day, whether at home, at work or at the gym. Embrace finding your inner calm. Activities focused on deep breathing, such as yoga, have been shown to be particularly beneficial for stress reduction.
- You’ll feel better overall – Moving your body boosts feel-good hormones and tends to set you on the right path to make healthy food choices. Regular exercise can help you sleep better and even improve your sex drive.
Side effects of exercising with AFib
AFib may cause some people to tire more easily. Other symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Always ask your doctor if these symptoms are normal or not. Many with AFib can exercise without any complications but it is important to know which symptoms not to ignore and to seek help for by calling your doctor right away or call 911:
- Shortness of breath you can’t recover from
- Shooting arm pain
- Confusion or disorientation
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden weakness on one side of your body
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty thinking clearly
Overall, any symptom you experience making you feel uneasy or unwell, don’t hesitate to call your doctor.