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Heart Center > Heart Healthy Blogs > Is it safe to exercise if I have atrial fibrillation?

Is it safe to exercise if I have atrial fibrillation?

Posted by: Douglas Gohn, MD on 2/15/2013 7:53:51 PM

Just because you have atrial fibrillation doesn’t mean you can’t lead an active, normal life. Exercise is safe—as long as you do it under your doctor’s supervision—and may benefit other conditions you may have, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, that contribute to heart disease.

With atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of your heart may beat rapidly and irregularly, resulting in poor blood flow to the body. You may feel heart palpitations, weakness, or shortness of breath—or you may have no symptoms at all. Atrial fibrillation is common, and your episodes of rapid heartbeat may surface occasionally, or you may have a chronic condition. That’s why there are no blanket rules about exercise that can cover everyone. Here are some tips:

  • Discuss your condition with your cardiologist and how you can work exercise into your treatment plan and if there are certain types of activities you should avoid.
  • Your doctor may want to you to have an electrocardiogram or stress test to determine the appropriate activity level for you.
  • Start slow and gradually increase your intensity and how long you’re exercising.
  • Be flexible. Because atrial fibrillation may be intermittent, be prepared to adjust your program based on how you feel and your tolerance for exercise that day.
  • If you have chest pain, labored breathing, or extreme fatigue, stop exercising immediately and contact your physician.
Exercising with atrial fibrillation is a matter of balancing risks and rewards. You should get the most out of what exercise has to offer with the fewest risks of aggravating your health. Physical activity may even help improve your symptoms. Your program should be safe, effective, and tailored to your specific needs with realistic goals so you don’t put undue stress on your heart. Your doctor may want you to exercise only under the supervision of a certified professional, perhaps at a hospital-based cardiac fitness group. But as long as your atrial fibrillation is being managed correctly and you feel good, there’s no reason you can’t exercise. Remember, exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle.

Douglas C. Gohn, MD
is an electrophysiologist with The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health and a researcher with extensive expertise in pacemaker and ablation technologies and procedures. He is board-certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, and cardiac electrophysiology. He has authored or co-authored more than 20 manuscripts and abstracts published in medical journals, and serves as a clinical research investigator at The Lancaster Heart & Stroke Foundation. Dr. Gohn is an avid runner and triathlete and has completed multiple long course events.

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