Best exercise for an AFIB heart, here are 14 tips

Best exercise for an AFIB heart
Best exercise for an AFIB heart

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:

1. Exercise

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.

5. Cycling

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.

6. Swimming

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.

Best exercise for an AFIB heart -Swimming?
Best exercise for an AFIB heart -Swimming?
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.

9. Jogging/Running

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).

You can use this LINK to buy a  Garmin Forerunner 35

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.

27 thoughts on “Best exercise for an AFIB heart, here are 14 tips

  1. JUST SAYIN,
    I was born with TOF and have been through several heart surgeries with an aortic valve replacement which put me on coumadin. I also had a defib installed a couple years ago and recently I was diagnosed with neuropathy. Not cryin or having a pity party. Just sayin it never stops and I never stop unless I have to.

    1. Hi Robert

      Yes, cardio exercise is very important for AFIB but I will always consult with my Doctor before I start to exercise.
      I have been exercising all my life but constantly check in with my Dr. about how and what to do.

  2. When do you need a pace maker I have AFIB and it attack me at night and sometime when I slow down.

    1. Hi Lillie

      I not a doctor and I have no personal experiance of pacemakers, but this is what I found on the internet.

      Usually a pacemaker is used when you have AFIB and your heart beats too slow, they call it “bradycardia”.
      Another reason for a pacemaker is when you have cogestive heart failure and your heart can not pump enough blood to the rest of your body.
      These 2 sites may help you.
      https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/atrial-fibrillation/pacemaker-afib#1
      https://www.uptodate.com/contents/the-role-of-pacemakers-in-the-prevention-of-atrial-fibrillation

      Your doctor will be the best one to talk about this.

      Thank you for the question.
      Maybe some readers have more information.

    2. I have permanant A Fib. sometimes I dont feel it. I just try to keep my heart rate and BP Stable. what else can I do?

      1. Hi Judi
        I’m not a doctor and just giving my experience and opinion, so please visit a doctor before you change anything.
        Are you on any anticoagulants? Do you regularly see your doctor?
        From what I’ve read and experienced when I was in AFIB, before my cardioversions, was that I had to be on some sort of anticoagulants. The new ones are much better than the warfarin that I was on.
        I know a blogger who is a runner and also in permanent AFIB, he will have valuable information for you. You can visit him at: https://afibrunner.com/
        This is who he is:
        I am Michael McCullough, a 53-year-old distance runner and mountain biker living in Klamath Falls, Oregon, who is in persistent atrial fibrillation – meaning that I do not go in and out of atrial fibrillation, like some athletes; but that I’m in atrial fibrillation all the time and I’m not expected to ever be out of atrial fibrillation. I am more or less asymptomatic, except for palpitations and, of course, a slower pace, and do not take any specific treatment except for a blood thinner (Pradaxa).

        Hope this helps?
        Janco

      2. That’s what I have as well. Had all of the tests, at least twice over, and because of my overall health/fitness from eating and exercise it was decided that the risk reward factor did not point me towards any intrusive treatment. I even decided against beta blockers or blood thinners as I don’t often experience a racing heart beat and as I say my diet etc is good. However I recently started low dose blood thinner due to a stressful period in my life but might stop again although the thought of a stroke a major concern. My heart rate Is continuously and consistently irregular. I do some gym work and regularly jog 20-30 mins and in general feel great though it is always a concern as I am in my late 60s and so things are, supposedly, only going to get worse. It’s one of those go it alone decisions if you don’t fall within the general demographic that most clinical trials cover. But It’s based on some research, medical opinion and my own feelings about living an active lifestyle. So listen to your body feed and exercise it with some thought. Intermittent fasting helps keep it clean. Then go out and enjoy life. No certainties for any of us. Anyone in similar situation let me know your thoughts, research and chosen path.

        1. Hi John

          Great reply. I agree. Ask as many questions as possible, get all the info, do what you can do and then just GO for life. There are no guarantees.

          As a side note. I understand that the doctors must say what they see and warn of things to come, but I also get it with every visit “it can/will get worse”
          Well, I’m going to fight for a healthy old day as far as I can.

  3. I’m 38 with a-fib and I’m very active — I do strength training, HIIT training, cycling, and play in an adult soccer league. I’ve been living with a-fib for 17 years now (paroxysmal). However, I’ve noticed in recent months that playing soccer triggers my a-fib about 50% of the time. I have a theory that this is because of the intensity of it all — sprinting super hard followed by spurts of rest. I rarely warm up properly before a game, so maybe I should consider that?

    I’ve also been trying to avoid caffeine and alcohol for at least a full 24 hours before my soccer games. Although that has helped a little bit, it hasn’t gotten me fully out of the woods.

    Anyway, I have an appointment with my cardiologist tomorrow, so I’ll try to follow up here with any information that he gives me.

    1. I played squash(racquetball) for many years but my cardiologist encouraged me to rather do cycling or swimming.
      He said the high-intensity short burst’s of speed and power in squash was not good for my heart.

      I mostly cycle now and do pushups, situps, and burpees in the morning(not every morning).

  4. I had chronic Afib and I’m 73. I’ve had 2 Ablations now EPCardio Dr said I don’t have Afib anymore 2 EKG in past 5 mo. Since Ablation both great. HP. Really good. I walk/ Hike everyday. No longer on meds or even Eliquis. My question is— Can I safely Hike in mountains for a day hike —top Elevation will be 12,000 ft????? Hike will be total 11 miles. Thanks

    1. Hi Leonard

      I wish I could give you an answer, but unfortunately, I think your own cardiologist will be the best one to answer you.
      Please let us know if you get an answer from him or another doctor.
      I think some of the factors your doctor will consider is: How fit you are, your blood INR count, will you be able to make a phone call if something happens, any other medical issues?
      Hope your doctor gives you a yes.

    2. Did you have to wean off the Eliquis? I’ve been on it for 20 days and after researching all the side affects I want off of it. Plan to take aspirin or Vitamin E to replace it.

        1. Is vitamin E good for heart palpitations?
          Arrhythmias and other heart conditions are associated with oxidant stress and inflammation. Antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E appear to be effective in reducing these. You can use vitamin C to treat colds, the flu, and even cancer, and it can also help with arrhythmia.

          Arrhythmia Alternative Treatments: Vitamins, Minerals, and More Check out this link.

  5. Thank you for sharing this advice. I’m a 50-yr old Ironman triathlon athlete who recently had cardiac ablation surgery to correct my Afib. This was six months ago and everything is still normal. I’m curious if other high endurance athletes have had this surgery and experienced difficulties getting back to running form. My swimming and cycling are strong, but running seems to be significantly limited. Ive also noticed my max heart rate has dropped by 20bpm. Would appreciate hearing feedback from similarly conditioned athletes.

    1. Hi Torry

      I’m 48 and only do cycling. Tomorrow I’m going to do a local 65 mile (105km) race. I usually only do short 27 miles (45km or shorter) races or training sessions. I have struggled with running pre and post my ablation so unfortunately, I cannot give you any feedback.
      I hope other readers can give you some more relevant information.
      Thx for the comment/question.

  6. Good luck in all you do, I am waiting on ablation anytime soon so I’m told. Well done on your attitude and motivation

  7. I found all the comments and recommendations very useful. I have been fighting chronic A-Fib since my stroke in 2017 at the age of 68. I have had several hospital/emegency room visits since then. I am taking Eliquis (blood thinner), Carvedilol high blood pressure/hypertension) and Amiodarone (affect rhythm of heart beat) as well as Ezetimibe (cholesterol lowering med). I continue to go in and out of AFib.
    However, the information shared on this website offers great advice on what I was doing WRONG – high impact and strength training routines on a daily basis; in dehydration mode in humid weather; and not listening to my body when I was in AFib. I recently had a cardioversion which worked for several days, but did not last.
    However, I believe following your rules will greatly help me control my AFIB occurrences and offer great advise on how I should approach my AFIB conditions.
    Thank you!

  8. After my second afib episode, I went to the doctor. My heartbeat did not go back into rhythm, so I also have rapid heartbeat, and afib. I have not been able to find any info in my research. Any thoughts? One more concern. Wanting to get involve in a new church, I did a bit of gardening. Very concerned though. It is located under a power grid. I took my BP reading after returning home. My resting pulse was 147. Not sure if it was due to the heat, to much activity, or the emf. All advise is appreciated.

    1. Hi Janet

      Are you still in AFIB and rapid heartbeat? The 3 types of intervention I had is.
      1. Medication. To try and get my heart rhythm back in or to keep my heart rate low, e.g Bisoprolol (to keep my heart rate low) or Arycor (amiodarone hydrochloride) which sometimes is used to keep my heart in rhythm.
      2. Cardioversion is when my heart is shocked back into rhythm. I’ve had more than 12.
      3. Ablation. A medical intervention where they “burn” certain parts of your heart. I’ve had 2.

      I have never “investigated” EMF. I live near power lines and have not thought about it much. I will try and investigate. If you get more information about it please let me know.

      Janco

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