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What is the Connection Between Atrial Fibrillation and Exercise?

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  • Written By: Marlene de Wilde
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, and it involves the two upper chambers of the heart. The connection between atrial fibrillation and exercise is that people who suffer from atrial fibrillation find that they have less stamina and exercise capacity because their heart does not pump blood efficiently. Some studies have found that those who undertake a long-term aerobic exercise program are more prone to atrial fibrillation than others.

The heart is divided into four chambers, with the two upper chambers being the atria and the two lower ones the ventricles. A healthy heart pumps blood at a rate set by the sinus node found in the wall of the right atrium, which sends out impulses or an electrical current. The normal sinus rhythm is about 60 regular beats per minute. When the electrical current becomes irregular because of hypertension, carditis, pneumonia, lung cancer or other causes, the heart loses rhythm and beats irregularly. As a result, less blood is pumped throughout the body, and exercise capacity is reduced.

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Though rarely life-threatening, sufferers of atrial fibrillation need to make some lifestyle changes. When someone has atrial fibrillation and exercise is a regular routine, then whether this should continue is something that needs to be discussed with a doctor. In many cases, moderate exercise is beneficial as long as the heart is not forced to beat too rapidly. High blood pressure is one of the causes of atrial fibrillation and exercise is one of the ways in which this cause can be controlled.

One of the goals of an exercise program is to increase muscle strength and stamina. In order to increase exercise capacity, short sessions of low-resistance strength training should slowly be replaced by longer sessions more often. Atrial fibrillation is usually intermittent, so the exercise program should be based on fatigue and tolerance levels. Anything that reduces the risk of heart failure and stroke, two complications of atrial fibrillation, should be encouraged.

Whether exercise actually causes atrial fibrillation has been the subject of long-term research. It has been found that those who exercise vigorously are 20 percent more likely to develop this condition. For men age 50 or younger who exercised vigorously five or more days a week, the risk increases by more than 50 percent. Although there has been no proof that exercise is a direct cause, the link between atrial fibrillation and exercise is considered to be a strong one.

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sunshined
Post 3

I have episodes of chronic atrial fibrillation, which means that sometimes these heart palpitations can last up to 48 hours.

The first time this happened was really scary. I had to go through a lot of tests and ended up wearing a heart monitor so they could track these episodes.

In addition to the heart palpitations, I was short of breath, dizzy and had some mild chest pain. Having these atrial fibrillation problems has made a difference in the way I live my life.

On the positive side, it has made me more conscious of what I eat and I have lost some weight. On the negative side, I am fearful that my heart is weak, and this will lead to more heart problems down the road.

honeybees
Post 2

I have always been physically active and regular exercise is part of my weekly routine.

I became very concerned when I started noticing some irregular heartbeats after my workouts. When I went to the doctor he said I had a heart murmur and that I also had heart arrhythmia.

He also told me there wasn't any specific atrial fibrillation treatment for my symptoms. He told me I didn't need to stop exercising, but I just needed to be better at monitoring it.

If my heart starts to flutter when I am exercising, I know I need to back off and not push myself.

It was kind of frustrating for me because I thought by exercising on a regular basis I was strengthening my heart. I didn't think the exercise would cause me to have heart arrythymia.

bagley79
Post 1

My grandma had episodes of atrial fibrillation most of her adult life. Her symptoms were from rheumatic fever as a child.

Although this was never a life threatening condition for her, she was always concerned about too much exercise or stress causing her to have these atrial fibrillation symptoms.

This is something she never took any medication for either. She just knew she would not be able to participate in any strenuous activity.

She did develop hypertension later on in her life, but this didn't seem to make her have any more symptoms than she had before. It is something she knew she would always have, and just learned to live with it.

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