I have atrial fibrillation. Should I participate in physical activity?
Answer From Rekha Mankad, M.D.
Regular physical activity is an important way for you to live a healthy lifestyle, which can make you feel better and decrease symptoms while dealing with heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder. Getting active can also help prevent other heart diseases or strokes.
One study found that moderate physical activity is safe and effective for people with atrial fibrillation. Physical activity also helped improve their quality of life and increase their ability to exercise and participate in daily living activities.
However, research is conflicting regarding the effects of vigorous physical activity in people with atrial fibrillation. More research is needed to determine the effects of physical activity in people with atrial fibrillation.
Be sure to ask your doctor before beginning an exercise program to ensure it is safe and effective for you. Sometimes you may need medications, such as beta blockers, to prevent your heart from beating too fast at rest and with exercise. You may also benefit from cardiac rehabilitation.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity for adults each week. Also, aim to include strength training exercises at least twice a week. You may want to do stretching exercises as part of your exercise routine.
Physical activity can include many options, such as:
- Climbing stairs
- Playing sports
It's OK if you can't exercise for long periods of time when you first begin. Even 10 minutes of exercise three times each day can reap health benefits.
So start moving. Even if you can only exercise for a short time at first, do what you can. Work your way toward larger fitness goals as you're able.
Nov. 15, 2019
- What is atrial fibrillation? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/af/#. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.
- Living with an arrhythmia. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr/livingwith. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.
- American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-in-Adults_UCM_307976_Article.jsp#.We5tCGeWzIV. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.
- Malmo V, et al. Aerobic interval training reduces the burden of atrial fibrillation in the short term. Circulation. 2016;133:4666.
- Bosomworth JN. Atrial fibrillation and physical activity. Should we exercise caution? Canadian Family Physician. 2015;61:1061.
- Cornelis J, Myers J, Heidbuchel H, et al. Exercise training in heart failure patients with persistent atrial fibrillation: a practical approach. Cardiac Failure Review. 2018; 4: 107.