Getting regular exercise is important, not only for your heart, but also for your overall health. In fact, some research indicates that it may be possible to prevent atrial fibrillation (also called AF or AFib) by staying physically active.
Regular exercise also has a beneficial effect on other factors that can contribute to heart disease, such as reducing the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. Exercise can also help you strengthen your muscles, heart and lungs, give you more energy, reduce anxiety and stress, and maintain or improve body weight.
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity each week, in blocks of at least 10 minutes. You can achieve this recommended goal by following a well-designed exercise plan that you can stick to over the long term.
Before you begin any type of exercise, it’s important to consider a few things:
- Talk to your doctor before exercising and before trying new activities. Having atrial fibrillation means your heart may not be working as efficiently as a heart without any condition, so it’s important that you talk to your doctor first. Your doctor will recommend a level of activity that is safe and effective for you. Your doctor may also recommend referring you to a fitness professional who can come up with an exercise program that is appropriate for you.
- Start small (e.g., shorter sessions of 10 to 15 minutes), then gradually work towards longer periods of activity (e.g., 30 to 45 minutes 3 or 4 times a week), as recommended by your doctor.
- Choose activities that you enjoy so that you’ll stick to your program. These might include walking, gardening, stair-climbing, or bike-riding. Again, double-check with your doctor before starting any activities.
- Atrial fibrillation symptoms can come and go; you may feel an irregular heartbeat one day and feel normal the next. Adjust how long and how intensely you exercise based on how you feel. Be aware if you feel more tired than usual or have a lower tolerance for exercise.
- Take frequent breaks during exercise if you need it. You should feel comfortable while doing your physical activities; you should not feel breathless or extremely tired.
- If you experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, or extreme fatigue, stop exercising immediately and contact your doctor.
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