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Medical News Today: A-fib and exercise: Health benefits and risks


Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat caused by faulty electrical signals in the upper chambers of the heart. In people with atrial fibrillation, the heart beats irregularly and often too quickly.


Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) can result in the heart not pumping enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body, which may cause symptoms like heart fluttering, weakness, and dizziness. It may eventually lead to serious complications including stroke and new or worsening heart failure.

Is it safe to exercise with A-fib?

[woman looking at heart monitor while exercising]
Wearing a heart monitor during exercise enables people with A-fib to check their heart rate easily and reduce the risk of symptoms.


A-fib may reduce a person’s ability to exercise. It is generally recommended that people with A-fib do some exercise. However, people with A-fib should consult with their doctor and take proper precautions before starting any exercise program.


In some cases, a heart specialist may not want a person to start or increase an exercise program before treatment for A-fib starts. In other cases, moderate exercise and increases in current routines may be encouraged.


Some general tips for exercising with A-fib include the following:


Increasing exercise slowly


Sudden, drastic increases in exercising can lead to injury. For people who have A-fib, exercise can trigger new heart symptoms or make existing symptoms worse. Instead of starting with high-intensity or long workouts, people with A-fib should start with shorter, lower-intensity workouts. These include walking or riding a bike for 5 to 10 minutes. The key is to build up gradually.


Wearing a heart monitor


Heart monitors have become increasingly popular among fitness professionals and other people who exercise regularly, so they can reach target specific heart rates. For people with A-fib, monitoring their pulse during exercise can be essential to help reduce the risk of flares caused by exercise. People with A-fib should talk to their doctor who can recommend the best heart rate for them when exercising.


Staying vigilant


People with A-fib should remain aware of their symptoms while exercising. If symptoms start to flare, they should stop their workout. Pain, extreme fatigue, and an inability to catch one’s breath are all reasons to cut a workout short.

Safety tips and recommendations


Exercising with A-fib can be a very important lifestyle change. However, because A-fib is related to the heart, it is important to take safety tips very seriously.


The best exercise routine involves moderate exercise. This type of exercise is one at a level where people are able to talk during the activity but not able to sing.


Some safety tips include:

  • warming up properly
  • staying hydrated during exercise
  • stopping exercise due to pain, extreme fatigue, or other signs of an A-fib flare up
  • easing into exercise
  • keeping exercise moderate to light
  • not exercising too much
  • keeping weights lighter when lifting and avoiding grunting through or holding breath while lifting
  • considering interval training consisting of periods of moderate exercise, followed by rest
  • stretching and cooling down
  • wearing safety equipment during exercises that warrant it


Safety equipment is particularly important for people taking blood-thinning medication who may get injured and bleed more heavily.


It’s crucial for people with A-fib to set realistic exercise goals to help them stay safe and achieve a healthful lifestyle within the parameters of the condition. A doctor can help set realistic exercise goals and make more specific recommendations for people with A-fib who want to exercise.

Risks and side effects


Exercising with A-fib does carry some degree of risk. However, the benefits of exercise generally outweigh the risk.

[man holding chest in pain]
If pain, faintness, or a racing heart occur during exercise, the person should stop immediately and get medical help.


People with A-fib who do exercise may experience a flare of symptoms. Typically, symptoms might flare with more intense exercise. These symptoms can include:

  • racing heart
  • dizziness
  • faintness
  • extreme fatigue


In some cases, people with A-fib may experience pain when exercising. If this occurs, the person should stop exercise immediately and seek medical attention.


For people using blood thinners, the results of an injury are potentially more severe. A cut, scrape, or fall could result in more excessive, uncontrolled bleeding.

Best exercises for people with A-fib


For people with A-fib, exercising has many potential benefits. Exercise can improve overall health, which can have positive impacts on the whole body.


In regards to A-fib, exercise can help reduce symptoms and improve heart health. This in turn can reduce the potential problems from heart disease and reduce stress. The key is keeping exercise moderate and avoiding exercise that is too intense.


People with A-fib should avoid prolonged periods of exercise, starting off too quickly with new exercises, intense exercise, and excessive weight lifting. Instead, people with A-fib should ease into new routines, do shorter, moderate workouts, and lift reasonable weights.

[happy older couple cycling in the woods]
Low-intensity workouts like riding a bicycle on flat terrain are recommended for people with A-fib.


Additionally, people with A-fib should consider exercises that involve intervals of moderate exercise combined with periods of reduced intensity or rest.


Some specific workouts for A-fib include:

  • walking short distances
  • low-intensity bike rides on rolling hills or flat surfaces, avoiding prolonged or steep uphills
  • yoga
  • pilates


People with A-fib should build up to walking longer distances, but at all points they should be able to speak during the walk.


A cardiologist and other professional trainers can recommend exercise programs that are tailored to individual needs. A person with A-fib should consult their doctor before starting or continuing any exercise program.


Outlook


A-fib is a common condition that many people experience in their lifetime. Like with many other health conditions, exercise can help to reduce the symptoms of A-fib and improve overall health. However, this should always be done under careful supervision.


It is very important for people to consult a doctor when considering a new routine or even continuing a current exercise program when diagnosed with A-fib.


It may take a little trial and error for someone with A-fib to find an exercise routine that works well for them. However, exercise generally improves heart health and can help people to manage their condition.




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