European Society of Cardiology

A 6-month exercise programme helps maintain normal heart rhythm and reduces the severity of symptoms in patients with atrial fibrillation, according to new research presented at the European Society of Cardiology.

The trial has demonstrated that some patients can control their arrhythmia through physical activity and without the need for interventions such as ablation or medications used to control heart rhythm.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heartbeat. It happens when the electrical impulses in the top two chambers of your heart fire impulses erratically instead of being regular and steady. It is these irregular signals that cause the chambers to twitch and fibrillate.

The common symptoms of atrial fibrillation include palpitations, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and fatigue which can all result in reducing an individual’s quality of life. In addition to these symptoms, it can also significantly increase the risks of stroke and heart failure. It is thought that over 30 million people are likely to be affected by this disease with the occurrence within individuals over the age of 55 being as high as 1 in 3 people.

Exercising Safely with Atrial Fibrillation

Even with atrial fibrillation, it is still very important to exercise in order to help improve/maintain fitness levels, promote good heart health and reduce the risk of further heart complications.

The British Heart Foundation suggests around 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity with a warm-up and cool down before and after every session. In terms of which type of exercise, any workout will be beneficial to overall health however it is recommended that for individuals with atrial fibrillation, the intensity is measured by how the individual feels rather than through heart rate monitoring as this may have some inaccuracies due to arrhythmias.

The rule of thumb is that if you become breathless then reduce the intensity of the workout so that your breathing and heart rate is still faster than usual, but you have enough breath that you can still talk in full sentences and maintain a conversation.

If you have a heart condition and would like advice on exercising, get in touch to book a consultation with Dr Konrad Grosser.