Just because you were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (a-fib), doesn’t mean you need to put your life on hold, or stop yourself from doing things you love – such as exercising. A-fib is often described as a flutter in the chest, which is an uncomfortable feeling and may make you scared to exert yourself for fear of making the condition worse. However, it’s key to remember that your heart is a muscle and needs to be conditioned in order to work properly--especially if you have a-fib.
It’s very important to speak with your cardiologist before beginning an exercise routine. You may even want to work with someone who specializes in cardiac rehab to get started, especially if you’re nervous about what your heart can handle. The journal Circulationnotes that patients who need medications to slow their heart rate may find that their heart rate does not increase as much as they expect with exercise. However, this observation usually indicates that the medications are doing a good job of controlling the heart rate and the beneficial effects of exercise will still occur.
So, which exercises are best for someone with a-fib? Generally speaking, try workouts that you can do consistently and with which you can control the intensity level. Group classes and team sports might not be a good fit for someone with a-fib because you might try to push yourself beyond your limits to keep up with the rest of the class or team.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Walking is a great exercise for those living with a-fib because you can begin gradually. This is a convenient exercise because you can do it wherever you are, and you can maintain your pace. If you want to kick it up a notch, try walking at a faster pace or consider timing yourself around a track.
Swimming is another good, low-impact aerobic exercise. It’s easy on your joints, and it exercises your whole body.
If the thought of twisting into various poses intimidates you, start off slowly and learn a few basic positions until you find your own rhythm. Yoga can help reduce stress levels, which is helpful not only for your overall well-being, but also because stress is a major trigger of a-fib.
The most important thing when exercising is to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, stop doing whatever you’re doing and talk to your doctor. It may also be helpful for you to wear a monitor so you can keep an eye on your heart rate and the intensity of your workout.