Exercising with AFib

Dear Friend,

as so many of my blogs this one too was inspired by the work with one of my current clients. He has experienced an increasing number of episodes of AFib during and outside of our training meetings. Rather than going into the details of his situation I would rather address the general issue of exercising when suffering from AFib.

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) or paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF) are characterized as irregular and often rapid heartbeats that cause a reduced blood flow to the body. Atrial fibrillation effects the upper two chambers of the heart where the blood is pooled that is returning from the body’s periphery and moved on into the two lower chambers called ventricles, that pump blood back into the body’s circulation. When you experience AFib the Atriums are beating out of sync with the Ventricles causing heart palpitations, weakness and shortness of breath.

The causes of Afib aren’t exactly known and understood but we do know that hypertension, heart failure, coronary artery disease and pulmonary disease are major contributors in the development of this condition. A natural cause of AFib can be the hearts age. An aging heart does not respond the same way as a young heart and that can lead to PAF.

Frequent episodes of AFib can significantly increase ones risk of stroke and heart failure. Due to the chaotic atrial contractions blood remains longer in these chambers increasing the chance of blood clotting also known as thrombosis. As these clots start moving through the body they can cause blockage of blood vessels supporting vital organs (i.e. brain) with oxygen resulting in a stroke. Heart failure is caused by the increased work load on the ventricles, which have to work much harder when trying to keep up with irate and rapid atrial contractions and cause the heart over years to wear out.

AFib is most commonly found in people over the age of 65 and as our senior population grows, so does the number of people dealing on an ongoing basis with AFib. Initially AFib may occur infrequently, but over time most commonly episodes appear more and more often and in some cases becoming a permanent state. Patients are commonly treated with medications that regulate the frequency of heart beats and anti-coagulants (blood thinners) to reduce the risk of thrombosis.

Just like any other heart condition or cardio-vascular disease AFib too benefits from exercising regularly as long as the training intensity meets the state the client is in. Mild to moderate intensities when participating in aerobic activities and weight lifting can help with body weight control, enhance mental outlook, help prevent other health problems and maintain strength and mobility necessary to perform activities of daily living.

  • If you are suffering from AFib, please have your Cardiologist determine your maximum heart rate while exercising and after cool down. I personally like the use of heart rate monitors when training clients with AFib as it provides constant work-out intensity feedback.
  • Be aware and recognize symptoms of AFib. If your work-out causes chest pain, extreme shortage of breath or extreme exhaustion stop immediately and reconsult with your doctor.
  • If you are a novice to fitness training make sure you ease in to it gradually starting with 15-20 minutes sessions rather than going straight for a full hour. As Atrial fibrillation is intermittent adjust your work-out intensity and duration in accordance with the situation at time of training.
  • If you are dealing with other problems i.e. ischemic heart disease, chronic heart failure or valvular heart disease the exercise considerations of these diseases take precedence over those for AFib.

Regular exercising  can be beneficial for individuals living with AFib as it positively effects the contributing factors to heart disease and improves the overall quality of live. The key to maximizing the benefits of exercising is to follow a well designed and supervised program that the individual can follow long term.

Hopefully this article is helping you to understand better the risks and benefits of exercising with AFib. Should you have any questions or comments please let me know.

A Sante,
Hartmut

Sources: www.WebMD.com, www.livestrong.com, Medscape, Mayo Clinic, American College of Sports Medicine.

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