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Can You Exercise With Atrial Fibrillation?

WebMD Feature

Exercise is good for your heart, right? But if you rev up your heart rate, will that trigger the irregular pattern of atrial fibrillation (AFib)? Don't worry too much. Experts say physical activity is usually good for people with AFib.

Doctors clear many people with this heart condition to start exercising right away. But before you start ramping up your workouts, ask your cardiologist (your heart doctor) if you need any tests.

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Most episodes of atrial fibrillation aren't life-threatening, but an irregular heartbeat can cause complications like a heart attack or stroke. When you're prepared to spot and handle what's going on, you can help your loved one get the medical care he needs faster, and ease your worries, too. To get started, make a list of his health conditions and the medications he takes. That way, you can share the list with medical professionals during any emergency. If your loved one takes blood thinners,...

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It's possible that you have problems that need treatment first. Your cardiologist may suggest a cardiac rehabilitation program. Rehab specialists develop a custom exercise program with you, look out for any problems, and help you figure out when it's safe to push yourself.

After you get the OK from your doctor, these tips will help keep you exercising safely. Also check with your doctor to see if there are other specific things you need to know or watch out for.

Build Up Gradually

When you have AFib, jumping into exercise too quickly -- with high intensity or long workouts -- could cause symptoms. Instead, start slowly with 5 to 10 minutes a day of walking. Add a minute or two every week or so.

Your ultimate goal is a total of 30 minutes of activity a day, 5 days a week. You want to boost your heart rate, breathe a little faster, and sweat a bit for a good workout.

Check Your Pulse

Ask your doctor what your heart rate should be while you're exercising and after you've cooled down.

Get his advice on what to do if your pulse is too low: Should you exercise longer, or push yourself harder?

If your pulse is too high, you're more likely to have symptoms. Find out what to do to bring it down.

Watch for Symptoms

When exercise causes pain, extreme breathlessness, or exhaustion, stop. Talk to your doctor before you work out again. You may need tests to make sure you don't have a new problem.

"Aside from the heart benefits, once you add exercise into your life, you'll really feel better," says Gordon Tomaselli, MD, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Regular exercise helps people get more out of life."

Reviewed on March 21, 2015

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