Evidence based medical wellness for active people from a doc who walks the walk

Exercise and Atrial Fibrillation: safe & protective against death


A new study (click the link to read it)  just came out looking at exercise and atrial fibrillation.

What is atrial fibrillation? It’s a heart condition where the top part of the heart beats irregularly, and sometimes, too fast.  The study evaluated 2442 patients from 9 countries with atrial fibrillation.  The study showed a couple of shocking statistics and trends about exercising (or not!) with atrial fibrillation:

  • First of all, exercise is safe in patients with atrial fibrillation. Not only is it safe, but the more patients exercised, the less likely they were to die!
  • However almost 40% of patients with atrial fibrillation did not exercise at all. The study didn’t say if they were too sick to exercise in the first place, or if they became sicker because they didn’t exercise.
  • Nearly 6% of the non-exercising group of patients died at one year.  Only 1% of those that exercised occasionally (<3 hours/week), regularly (3-7 hours per week), or intensely (7+ hours/week) died at one year.

    Basically, any exercise is better than no exercise at all in atrial fibrillation.

  • In addition, patients that exercised had less prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure and high triglycerides.

Here are tips from WebMD on exercising with atrial fibrillation. Patients should always check with their physician prior to starting an exercise program.

  1. Check with your cardiologist to get clearance to begin exercise.  Ask you doctor what your maximum heart rate should be when exercising, and what you should do if your pulse gets too high during exercise.
  2. Consider wearing a heart rate monitor. At the minimum check your pulse every 5 – 10 minutes, especially when just starting an exercise program.  Follow what your doctor said about pulse guidelines.
  3. Start gradually as you get used to exercising again. Increase your time and intensity slowly
  4. Of course, if you develop pain, extreme shortness of breath, lightheadedness or any other problems, stop and seek medical attention.

If you have afib, or a family member or friend with afib, I would love to hear about your experiences with exercise.

This post is dedicated to my brother-i- law Rob, my “birthday” sibling who is still exercising even though his afib medications get him down.  Hang in there Rob!

If you want to learn more about atrial fibrillation, here is a video I thought was pretty good. Don’t worry, there is nothing gross in it.  It is pretty thorough so pull up a fizzy water and settle in.


Author: PookieMD

I am a board certified internal medicine physician. I love medicine and seek to bring evidence based medicine to the fitness and wellness world.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: