8 Benefits of Exercise with Afib


Denise Mann, MS

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Regular exercise is an important part of your atrial fibrillation (afib) treatment plan, and it can help you lead a fuller and healthier life.

Yes, exercise is good for just about everyone, but for people with afib, the benefits of getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week can be even more powerful. Exercise has spillover effects on many of the downstream consequences associated with this common heart rhythm disorder, namely heart attack and stroke.

The best part? There is no downside to exercising with afib as long as you get clearance from your doctor and continue with your afib treatment plan.

The eight benefits of exercise with afib include:

1. Decreased Stroke Risk

Stroke is the No. 1 threat for people living with afib. In fact, the risk of stroke in someone with afib is as much as five times greater than that of a person without this irregular heartbeat. Here’s why: Afib typically occurs when the heart’s two upper chambers beat unpredictably and/or rapidly. This can cause blood to collect in the heart and potentially form a clot, which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. But up to 80% of strokes in people with afib can be prevented, according to the American Stroke Association. One of the best ways to stave off stroke risk is regular exercise. It lowers blood pressure, diabetes risk, and other factors known to increase the chances of a stroke.

2. Weight Control

Moderate exercise can help you maintain a normal weight, which will have a positive effect on stroke and heart disease risk. This is important because afib increases the likelihood of heart attack and heart failure as well as stroke. Keeping a trim, toned figure will improve your overall heart health.

3. Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure significantly increases the risk of stroke and heart disease, but exercise helps keep your blood pressure levels in the safety zone. A normal blood pressure reading is a systolic pressure (the upper number) of less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg) and a diastolic pressure (the lower number) of less than 80 mm/Hg.

4. Improved Cholesterol Profile

Exercise will help lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol and boost levels of the so-called “good” cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL). A high LDL is a known risk factor for heart disease, and a high HDL is protective. Keeping your numbers where they belong can help reduce your risk especially in the face of Afib. Talk to your doctor about your cholesterol goals.

5. Reduce Risk of Heart Attack and Heart Failure

If you have Afib, you are also at higher risk for heart attack, and exercise is one of the best ways to lower this risk largely through weight control and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

6. Decrease Diabetes Risk 

Diabetes is more than just a risk factor for afib. It also increases your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Exercise is known to help reduce the risk of diabetes.

7. Fewer Atrial Fibrillation episodes

Consistent exercise can help maintain a regular heart beat and keep afib episodes at bay. One study out of Australia showed that weight loss plus staying on top of other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and other conditions that respond to exercise, can reduce the number of afib episodes, when compared to just managing risk factors without weight loss. And of course, one of the best ways to lose weight and maintain that loss is regular exercise.

8. Better Quality Of Life

If you exercise, you will feel better and have more energy throughout the day. This will have spillover benefits on your life and lifestyle. One study in the American Heart Journal found that exercise could improve quality of life for people with afib. Exercise is also a natural antidepressant, which can help improve your mood and your outlook on life.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: May 16, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Osbak PS, et al. A Randomized Study of the Effects of Exercise Training on Patients With Atrial Fibrillation. (2011) Am Heart J. 2011;162(6):1080-7.
  2. Prevention Strategies for Afib. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/Prevention-Strategies-for-Atrial...
  3. Cholesterol. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/WhyCholesterolMatters/Why-Cholesterol-Matters_U...
  4. Why Diabetes Matters. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Diabetes/WhyDiabetesMatters/Why-Diabetes-Matters_UCM_002033...
  5. Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Bloo...
  6. Abed HS, et al. Effect of Weight Reduction and Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Management on Symptom Burden and Severity in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation. JAMA Nov 20;310(19):2050-60. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.280521. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24240932
  7. Afib-Stroke Connection. American Stroke Association. http://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/preventing-stroke/afib-stroke-connection

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