Exercise is beneficial to heart health, but it is acknowledged that periods of intense activity can trigger symptoms for people with Atrial Fibrillation (AF).
However, a diagnosis of AF does not mean individuals should adopt a sedentary lifestyle; they can continue to lead full and normal lives.
What is important to consider is the level and intensity of activity and that can be dictated by factors such as age and mobility, the type and severity of AF a person has (there are four types), and how you feel in general.
Critically, activities after an AF diagnosis – particularly anything that requires intense exercise – should not be undertaken without first speaking to a physician, specialist nurse, or care team for guidance.
Experts acknowledge that the relationship between exercise and AF is not straightforward and that while mild or moderate intensity exercise can help, “intense exercise typically carries a higher risk of AF.”
That means finding the right exercise and then easing your way into the routine, progressively building strength and endurance.
As you exercise, it is important to keep track of your pulse by using a wearable device, such as the CART-I ring cardio tracker from Sky Labs, which is the world’s first ring-type smart wearable heart rhythm monitoring medical device and continuously measures heart rate from screening the bloodstream 24/7 through the finger.
Activities that may be beneficial if you have AF can include walking, swimming and other pool-based aerobic exercises, cycling (such as with an exercise bike), gardening, or Yoga.
Start gently, and increase the amount of activity or intensity in accordance with advice from your physician, but stop if you feel any symptoms associated with AF during the exercise session.
Exercising with AF can be perfectly safe and even those with other underlying cardiac risk factors can still exercise and enjoy the benefits that come with it.
Exercise is beneficial to the heart muscle and the body in general, but must be tailored to the individual.
Exercising with AF can increase the efficiency of the heart and improve symptoms.
The key is to use forms of exercise that do not cause sudden and extreme changes in heart rate, hence the idea of starting with a gentle walk and building up the intensity.
Using a treadmill, exercise bike, or cross-trainer is worth considering as you can start and stop whenever you want in a safe indoor environment.
Doing a 10-15 minute ‘warm up’ to avoid sudden changes in heart rate is important, as is ending any session with a ‘cool down’ to avoid a sudden drop in blood pressure that can bring on dizziness.
A study published in 2019 looked at Physical Activity and Risk of Atrial Fibrillation and assessed the effect of physical activity at different energy expenditures on the incidence of AF.
The research evaluated the association of physical activity level and new-onset AF in a community-based database in Korea, which included more than 500,000 individuals who underwent health examinations.
The results indicated that “moderate-intensity exercise is more recommended to achieve substantial health benefits for AF risk reduction.”
In general, it is safe and good for your health to stay physically active while living with AF but as every patient is different, and has different levels of AF, speaking with your care team about finding the right level of activity is crucial.
Evidence suggests that people with AF who exercise, compared to those who don’t, have fewer AF episodes, go to the hospital less often, and report a better quality of life.
Regular physical activity can help strengthen the heart, lose weight, and reduce stress.