Most patients can exercise with beta blockers without having to adjust their exercise routine. The main adjustment that most patients will need to make is simply changing their target heart rate during a session of aerobic exercise. The lower heart rate caused by beta blockers can make it easier for a person to get a better workout, though it will make it harder — or even impossible — to increase the heart rate to a level that is a normal target heart rate. Unless the patient has other health problems, there are no restrictions on the amount or type of exercise in which the patient can engage.
Beta blockers reduce a patient’s heart rate and blood pressure. The decrease in heart rate occurs both when the patient is resting and when the patient is active. This means heavy exercise may not increase the heart rate above a certain level, no matter how strenuous the workout. Patients who are used to aiming for a certain target heart rate may need to adjust their target number once they begin taking beta blockers. The level of activity and duration of exercise can remain the same as it was before the patient began taking this medication.
As a general guide, patients can lower their target heart rate by the same amount of beats per minute as beta blockers lower the resting heart rate. Exercise with beta blockers may cause the heart to beat at a greatly reduced rate, however, so this guideline will not work for all patients. It is possible for a patient to use an exertion scale rather than a target heart rate when he or she begins to exercise with beta blockers. The exertion scale relies on the subjective impressions of how hard the workout feels to the patient and can, in many cases, be more reliable than an adjusted target heart rate.
Though many patients who take beta blockers don’t have side effects, there are some uncommon effects that can make it difficult for a patient to exercise with beta blockers. These drugs can cause dizziness, fatigue or shortness of breath, which may make a strenuous workout uncomfortable. Patients should listen to their bodies and not push it in order to avoid injury. These side effects often will lessen over time, so exercising moderately at first may be beneficial to patients who are still adjusting to this medication. A patient should tell a doctor if side effects remain severe, because this may indicate that a different beta blocker or a different dosage should be tried.