Atrial Fibrillation, otherwise known as AFib, is the most common heart rhythm disorder in the world, estimated to affect 1 million people in the UK and is the leading cardiac cause of stroke in young people.
In this edition of the ‘Living with AFib’ series I’ll be covering how to manage AFib, whilst keeping fit and exercising. The following will touch upon the best practice for your routine, exercises to avoid, the side effects of exercise with AFib, and when it’s suitable to talk to your Doctor or Cardiologist.
Before beginning any exercise with AFib, be sure to stretch and lightly warm up with some low intensity activities. A good place to start would be to walk, NOT jog or run, for 10 mins, this will allow the heart to gradually adjust to the activity.
Once you’ve completed your stretches and warm up, you can now begin your workout. Exercises like power walking, jogging or hiking allow you to endure a decent workout without overloading the heart.
Lifting light weights can also be a good, accessible workout, however the weights MUST be light. Using light weights prevents the risk of overloading your muscles and as a result putting strain on your heart. Using heavy weights or doing any exercise that puts strain on the heart, can potentially be dangerous when living with AFib. Consult your Doctor or Cardiologist for advice on the correct weights to use, as everyone’s threshold varies.
In terms of what is considered a suitable duration of time spent exercising, start off by trying short 10-15 minute sessions to ease yourself in. This will give you an idea of what level of exercise you can manage or alternatively what makes you start to feel lightheaded, indicating that you should stop. As short periods of exercises become more comfortable, gradually begin to add 5-10 minutes on to your exercise time until you feel as though you’ve reached your limit, satisfying your pre-defined individual fitness goal.
It may take a few months to build up to this point, however, taking the time to develop a bespoke exercise routine to accommodate your AFib will allow you to live a healthier lifestyle.
If you don’t exercise regularly, you don’t want to start with high intensity activities, as previously mentioned. Avoid pushing your intensity limit, for example, lifting more weight or running harder, raising your heart rate and putting your heart at risk. You may feel as though you can handle a more intense workout, I would advise consulting your Doctor or Cardiologist prior to experimenting with your exercises routine, they will be able to advise you on correct weight lifting limits and other cardiovascular activities, like jogging.
Avoid activities that put you at risk of physical injury. This includes outdoor sports such as outdoor biking, surfing and other activities that could result in falling and potentially hurting yourself. This is because many patients with atrial fibrillation take medications to thin the blood, meaning injury could cause heavier bleeding.
For many people, suitable exercise with AFib can help you to live a stronger, more energised life. Aside from helping you maintain a healthy weight, which can help prevent or control AFib, there are some side effects that may make exercising more difficult. These include:
Starting with light, low intensity exercise is very important when living with AFib as you do not want to push your heart to start racing too rapidly. When your heart starts to race, your blood pressure will usually begin to fall and can result in feeling faint or dizzy. Strenuous exercise with AFib can do more harm than good.
Before starting any form of exercise or activity, be sure to consult your cardiologist about what is and isn’t suitable for you when it comes to working out. Living with Afib is different for each person and should your AFib trigger any of the aforementioned symptoms, your cardiologist may recommend you work on getting the condition under better control before you start physical activity. Your cardiologist may also prescribe medications for you to regulate the rhythm of your heart or even to prevent your heart from beating too fast depending on your type of AFib.
For more information regarding Atrial Fibrillation, click here. If you require an appointment or consultation to discuss what type of exercise regime would be most suitable for you, click here to get in contact.