Is it okay to exercise with atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrilliation or AFib for short, 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
In order for the heart to beat in rhythm, it relies on a regular rhythm coming from an electrical pattern in its chambers. When the heart is out of rhythm, this causes the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) to beat irregularly (quiver) instead of beating in a regular, rhythmic beat.
The primary danger of AFib is stroke. In fact, 15-20 percent of people who have strokes have AFib. Because of the lack of regular contractions, blood can pool increasing the risk of clotting in which a blood clot can go anywhere in the body, including the brain which causes a stroke, or to the lungs which causes a pulmonary embolism.
A couple of other concerns with AFib is if the heart beats too fast, this can lead to heart failure. If AFib is left untreated, it can lead to other heart rhythm problems such as chronic fatigue.
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
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 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.
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 your feel uneasy or unwell, don’t hesitate to call your doctor.