Exercise and atrial fibrillation
To get started exercising when you have atrial fibrillation:
- Have a thorough exam before starting any exercise program. Your doctor may do an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) and possibly a stress ECG test to assess what level of activity your heart can handle.
- Make a list of questions to discuss with your doctor. Do this before your appointment. For some general questions, see the exercise planning sheet(What is a PDF document?) .
- Make an exercise plan together with your doctor. An exercise program usually consists of stretching, activities that increase your heart rate (aerobic exercise), and strength training (lifting light weights). Visit a library or bookstore for information on exercise programs. Join a health club, walking group, or YMCA. Many cities have senior centers that offer inexpensive exercise programs.
- Learn how to check your heart rate. See taking a pulse. Your doctor can tell you how fast your pulse (target heart rate) should be when you exercise.
- Start out slowly. Try parking farther away from the store or walk the mall before shopping. Over time, you will increase your ability to do more.
- Keep a record of your daily exercise. It is okay to skip a day occasionally or to cut back on your exercise if you are too tired or not feeling well.
Four ways to build exercise success
- Set realistic goals. If you expect too much, you are likely to become discouraged and stop exercising.
- Give yourself time. It can take months to get into the habit of exercising. After a few months, you may find that you are looking forward to it.
- Stay with it. It can be hard to follow an exercise plan. Try exercising with a friend—it is much easier to continue an exercise program if you are exercising with someone else.
- Reward yourself. Build in rewards along the way that help you continue your program.
Precautions when starting an exercise program
When starting an exercise program, keep the following precautions in mind:
- Pace yourself by alternating exercises. Rotate light workouts, such as short walks, with more strenuous exercises, such as low-impact aerobics or swimming.
- Avoid exercising outdoors in extreme temperatures or high humidity. When the weather is bad, try exercising indoors at a gym or walking at a mall.
- Avoid exercises that require or encourage holding your breath, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and heavy lifting.
- If you develop palpitations, chest pain, or dizziness or lightheadedness, stop exercising and rest. Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if these symptoms don't go away.
- Do not take hot or cold showers or sauna baths after exercising. Moderate temperatures are best, because very hot or very cold temperatures can be dangerous.
- Ask your doctor about continuing your exercise program if your medicines change. New medicines can affect how you feel when you exercise.
- Do not take naps after exercise because that reduces exercise tolerance.
- Take your pulse frequently or wear a heart rate monitor and keep your pulse within the parameters your doctor sets. Watch your pulse when walking up hills or stairs.
- Make sure you adjust your exercise program if it is interrupted for more than just a couple of days. Gradually increase to your regular activity level as tolerated.