Is there something like the best exercise for an AFIB heart?
This post will talk about people that have had AFIB but who are in “rhythm” now and who want to exercise. I know there are many people in permanent AFIB who still go on with their exercise, but I’m not going to discuss it in this article.
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” Jim Rohn
Now that you have AFIB are you going to neglect your heart and body?
I know about the fear, can I still exercise?
Is exercise good for you? Can that even be a question?
I hear you, what about the fear?
This past Sunday I cycled 67miles(108km) in a local race. The hesitation and fear within me were there and I heard it asking me questions about how much I trained and if I was going to be able to make it. Fortunately or unfortunately I had made a commitment to a very good friend, and cycling was the best exercise for an AFIB heart, that I have found for myself.
Last year I broke a commitment I made to him, and that’s not who I want to be. My yes must be YES! So I was into this thing.
Like any cyclist, runner, maybe most amateur sportsmen will tell you “I did not train enough for this thing”
While I was standing at the start at 06:00 I talked and joked with some of my old cycle friends and put up a brave face. Inside I was fighting myself and hoping just to hang on. I understand that this was not the right mindset to perform like a champion, but that was what was in my head.
My best exercise for an AFIB heart. Some tips:
You must do something! Anything. Remember to talk to your cardiologist first. What does he recommend? There really is no one fits all type of “exercise prescription”, but I believe in most cases your doctor will give you some sort of “exercise prescription”.
This will depend on so many things but I can mention a few. It depends on your age, your overall condition, and health, previous history of exercise and fitness level, weight, your heart ‘s overall condition.
With the blessing of your doctor try something beyond your comfort zone. It will stretch you and give you an immense level of self-confidence (heart confidence), pride and accomplishment.
2. Not too much exercise
According to a study called”The ambiguity of physical activity, exercise, and atrial fibrillation” extensive and long-term exercise has shown to increase the prevalence and risk of atrial fibrillation. The same study has also reported that more modest physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of atrial fibrillation.
3. Warm up
It is always very good to do some sort of warm-up exercise. This can be any type of stretching or low impact type of exercise. Walking a good way to ensure that your heart adjusts to the increased level of activity. A fast sprint or hi-impact start may not be the best way to begin your workout.
4. Power walk
A fast brisk walk is low impact, and almost anybody can do it. You do not need any special type of equipment and it is a great way to get in some exercise wherever you are. It will also give you an indication of how fit you are. If it does not give you enough exercise you can move on to some other type of exercise.
This is my current “exercise prescription” and I enjoy it very much. The only issues to take note of is that if you are cycling alone, far from your house and you go into AFIB it can create problems. Also if you are on blood thinners and you fall it can cause excess bleeding. I have completed many cycle races and the Cape Town Cycle Tour has been my favorite so far.
This is another low impact exercise which is great for an AFIB affected heart. If you are not fit enough to swim the first few times, you can start with water walking or water aerobics.
7. Strength training
Be advised that the wrong type of strength training can increase blood pressure which is not good when you are an afib heart patient. If you previously (pre-afib) did strength training your body should be used to it, but first clear it with your doctor. Like previously mentioned there is no, one size fits all type of exercise, which could be called the best exercise for an AFIB heart. Strength training is usually done on alternating days.
8. Aerobic exercises
This may include pure aerobics or training on machines like an elliptical trainer, stair climber or cross-country ski machine. The advantage is that you could do it any day, day or night, winter or summer.
This could be a bit strenuous on your heart and whole body if you are not used to it. On the other side, it is a “quick” and easy way to get in some exercise, and you only need shoes. You have to consult your doctor before you just begin to run, especially if you have not been doing it for a long time. A quick stress test(on the treadmill) at your cardiologist will also indicate if running could be the right thing for you.
For many people running is the best exercise for an AFIB heart, but like the next heading states”start slow”
10. Start slow
Do not begin with a bang! I have done it this way previously and it backfired on me. I played squash and because I did not feel anything I went flat out. Only 5-6 minutes after the game did I get my AFIB attack. So my advise to myself, and you if you want it is, start slow and gradually build up your intensity in length of workouts.
11. Check your pulse
Your doctor can tell you what your heart rate should be while your exercising and also after you have stopped and relaxed for a while. This will also depend on any medication you are on. I’m on bisoprolol ( a beta-blocker) and that means my heart rate should not go very high, because bisoprolol slows down your heart rate.
This is relative because it depends how fit you are, the type of exercise you are doing, age and a few other factors.
You could check your pulse the old fashioned way, with your fingers(when your running it’s very difficult, impossible maybe?) Or you could wear a type of sports watch like the Garmin Forerunner 35. This watch has a wrist-based heart rate monitor. This is very important to note. Some other makes also have this feature, but some models have a strap that you have to put around your chest.
It could be that the strap is more accurate, I don’t know but my experience was that it was somewhat cumbersome, especially when you just quickly want to go for a run or cycle.
The other feature of the Forerunner 35 is that it monitors your heart 24/7. I have used the Garmin Forerunner 60 and 70 but my wrist strap broke and I have not replaced it yet. Both the FR 60 and 70 used a strap to monitor your heart rate. It was very interesting to see how my heart rate reacted to different types of sport, terrains and even my health state(like having a cold).
12. Listen to your body
If you experience any pain, extreme breathlessness, dizziness, nausea or exhaustion rather stop and consult your doctor, it may not be the best exercise for an AFIB heart.
13 Always stay hydrated
You don’t need to overdo it, but do be aware that if you dehydrate your chances of going into AFIB are that much higher. Hydration affects the function of the heart and Steve S. Ryan of A-Fib.com explains it very well in his post “How drinking too little can trigger your A-fib”.
If you train and exercise in very hot conditions you must always stay hydrated, but don’t underestimate the amount of fluid that you lose when you are training in cold conditions. One of the golden rules is to know and listen to your body. Is your mouth dry, are you thirsty?(you may then already be starting to dehydrate), low urine output or if your urine is darker than usual.
I drink Rooibos tea daily, it is a wonderful natural caffeine-free drink with many health benefits. How to make Rooibos? Watch this video.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZScMhgB6tY
14 Beware of the Ball
My own experience is that if you play a sport where you chase a ball the ball determines your action and speed for most of the part. I have not looked for any scientific proof of it, but the ball makes you run. With something like cycling and running, it is easier to control the pace. With football(soccer), squash, tennis, baseball or most ball sports the speed of the ball determines your speed. Maybe not the best exercise for an AFIB heart?
What is your best exercise for an AFIB heart? Please comment.
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I am not a doctor, and I do not give medical advice. I’m a person who has suffered from AFIB and during my journey experienced 8 cardioversions, and an ablation. Sport has helped me cope with AFIB and it has enriched my life.