One of the most common heart arrhythmia’s is atrial fibrillation (AF). When this occurs a person’s heartbeat appears to be irregular and rapid. Normally, our heart rate is controlled and regulated by an electrical impulse from a little node in the heart called the sinus node. For people with AF however, this is not the case. These electrical impulses are uncontrolled and travel through the atrial chambers of the heart rather than the sinus node. This causes the atria to contract out of time with each other, producing a “quiver” or “fibrillation” as seen in the image below:
So, should someone be exercising with AF?
Of course, they should! Exercise can be an effective management tool for AF. Firstly, completing regular exercise can reduce weight. Increased body weight is a major risk factor for developing AF (along with other heart conditions e.g. hypertension). Decreasing weight through exercise reduces the stress on the heart and improving its function and efficiency.
It is recommended to avoid high-intensity exercise for people with AF. Instead, start small with short five to ten-minute bouts of activity. This is for your safety to avoid any unwanted side effects. Once you are confident that exercise is tolerable gradually increase the duration of exercise. Resistance training is also useful for AF and heart health. Again we need to be aware that lifting weights too heavy may put unwanted strain on our heart and body. Opt to start with lighter weights and steadily build up.
Whilst exercising with AF you should be aware of any side effects. This includes exhaustion, dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath or heart palpitations. It is recommended to see an exercise physiologist before beginning any exercise to ensure safety and clearance to exercise.
If you or anyone you know are living with atrial fibrillation, why not give one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists a call at one of our Optimum studios on (02) 8599 6275 and we can lead you in the right direction.