Atrial Fibrillation Also called: AF, AFib

I Have Atrial Fibrillation: How Active Can I Be?

Common Questions & Answers

Question: How much exercise should I get if I have AFib?

Answer: In general, 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least five days a week is safe and beneficial for most people. A brisk walk is an example of moderate-intensity activity. Ask your health care professional what’s the right amount for you.  

Question: How hard should my workout be?

Answer: Don’t feel like you have to amp up your exercise routine to the max. People with AFib who exercise at a low level of intensity can derive the same benefits as those engaging in high-intensity exercise, studies suggest. Listen to your body—and your health care professional—and find an exercise routine that keeps you motivated and feeling good.

Question: I’ve never exercised before, but my doctor says I should. Where do I start?

Answer: There are many different ways to be physically active. If you’re new to exercising, start slowly. Over time, build up the length and intensity of your workouts. Find activities that you enjoy, and try to include a combination of aerobic exercises (activities that get your heart pumping) and activities that strengthen your muscles. (Learn more about the types of exercise and get practical tips on finding a routine that will stick.)

Question: I am a runner recently diagnosed with AFib. Should I stop running or taking part in races?

Answer: In most cases, you can continue your running routine. Exercising with atrial fibrillation is safe as long as your heart rate doesn’t go too fast. Talk with your health care professional about setting a target heart rate that is right for you.

Question: I had an ablation to treat AFib. Will exercise make AFib more likely to reappear?

Answer: Experts say it’s best to refrain from any exercise within 90 days of an ablation. Beyond that time, the evidence is not yet clear. But we do know that people who haven’t had an ablation can reduce the likelihood of AFib episodes with moderate levels of exercise. You should keep exercising as you are able because we know it has many benefits for the heart.

Question: I have AFib and had a pacemaker implanted. Can I exercise?

Answer: Definitely, but you should wait until you properly heal from your procedure. Your health care professional can tell you when it’s safe for you to start exercising and what activities are best for you. In some cases, the device can be programmed to accommodate higher heart rates.  

Question: Is it OK for me to do vigorous household chores, like vacuuming or mowing the lawn?

Answer: It’s likely perfectly fine—and good for you—to keep doing these types of activities. Check with your doctor if you are concerned about specific activities. Generally speaking, if the level of exertion is roughly equivalent to a brisk walk, it’s probably safe.  

Question: What if I have a job that involves physical activity or manual labor?

Answer: Talk to your doctor about how your work routine might affect your AFib, or if certain activities might trigger an AFib episode. If you work outdoors, it is especially important to stay hydrated in hot weather. It’s a good idea to avoid outdoor exertion in extreme cold, heat or humidity, or on days with high levels of air pollution.

Question: Is it OK to have sex?

Answer: You may feel embarrassed or reluctant to ask this question, but intimacy and staying connected with your partner are important. Experts say sex involves about the same level of exertion as other types of moderate exercise, such as climbing two flights of stairs, vacuuming, bowling, pushing a lawn mower or playing a doubles tennis match. So if your doctor says these are OK, then having sex should be fine.

Sex is also generally OK even if you have a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). If you feel chest pain, an abnormally racing heart or think you may have been shocked by your ICD, check in with your doctor. (Learn more about arrhythmias and sexual activity.)

Question: What signs or symptoms should I watch for when exercising?

Answer: Listen to your body. If you feel short of breath, dizzy or have chest pain or discomfort, it’s time to back off. Ask your health care professional what other symptoms might indicate an episode of AFib or other heart problem. Also, make sure you know when to dial 911. 


Resources

CardioSmart has a wealth of resources available on AFib and other heart conditions, as well as steps you can take to staying healthy. Explore the rest of our website.

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Published: September 2017
Medical Reviewers: John Catanzaro, MD, FACC; Jordan M. Prutkin, MD, FACC

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AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.

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Dr. Kanny S. Grewal, FACC, presents at a Living with Atrial Fibrillation event in Columbus, Ohio in Oct. 2014.