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Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Heart Arrhythmias and Exercise

Heart Arrhythmias and Exercise


If you have an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), it's important to talk to your doctor about what type and level of exercise is safe for you. Regular activity can help keep your heart and body healthy.

The type and amount of exercise that's is safe for you will vary depending on the cause of your abnormal heart rhythm and whether you have other forms of heart disease. If your irregular heartbeat is caused by another type of heart disease (such as cardiomyopathy or a valve problem), you may need to limit your activity because of the other heart disease.

How can you safely start an exercise program?

How can you safely start an exercise program?

Making a plan with your doctor

Before you start a new exercise program or change your current exercise program, there are some things you can do to make sure it is safe for you.

  • Talk with your doctor.

    Your doctor may do a physical exam, an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), and possibly a stress ECG test to assess what level of activity your heart can handle.

  • Make an exercise plan together with your doctor.

    An exercise program usually consists of stretching, activities that increase your heart rate (aerobic exercise), and strength training (lifting light weights).

  • Make a list of questions to discuss with your doctor.

    Do this before your appointment.

  • Consider joining a health club, walking group, or YMCA.

    Senior centers often offer exercise programs.

  • Learn how to check your pulse or use a heart rate monitor.

    Your doctor can tell you how fast your pulse (target heart rate) should be when you exercise.

  • Know how to exercise safely with a cardiac device such as a pacemaker or ICD.

    If you have a cardiac device, your doctor might advise you not to take part in contact sports. Impacts during these sports could damage your device. Sports such as swimming, running, walking, tennis, golf, and bicycling are safer.

  • Know what symptoms could be a sign of a problem.

    These symptoms could include palpitations, chest pain, or lightheadedness.

Exercising safely when you have an arrhythmia

  • Make a plan with your doctor before you start a new activity or exercise program.

    Your doctor can tell you what type and amount of exercise is safe for you. This will depend on the cause of your abnormal heart rhythm and whether you have other forms of heart disease. Regular activity can help keep your heart and body healthy.

  • Get tests, if you need them, before you get active.

    Your doctor may do tests to check how much activity your heart can safely handle. These tests may include an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and maybe a stress test. Then your doctor can suggest a safe level of exercise based on your condition and the stage of your disease.

  • Choose activities that you enjoy or want to try.

    Your doctor can help you choose activities that will help your heart and are safe for you. An exercise program usually consists of stretching, activities that increase your heart rate (aerobic exercise), and strength training (lifting light weights). You may try things like walking, swimming, biking, or jogging. Any activity you enjoy will work, as long as it gets your heart rate up.

  • Plan how you will start to get active.

    With your doctor, plan how often, how long, and how hard you will be active. Even if you can only do a small amount of exercise, it is better than not doing any exercise at all.

  • Learn how to check your pulse or use a heart rate monitor.

    Your doctor may give you a range of how fast your heart rate should be when you exercise. Your doctor can also help you find out what your target heart rate is. Your target rate may be different from a person's who does not have a heart rhythm problem. This is especially true if you take medicine that affects your heart rate, such as beta-blockers.

  • Know when to avoid exercising outside.

    Avoid exercising outdoors in extreme temperatures or high humidity or poor air quality. Have a plan for indoor activities. For example, when the weather is bad, try exercising indoors at a gym or walking at a mall.

  • Know the warning signs that mean you should stop and rest.

    For example, stop and rest if you have palpitations, angina symptoms (such as chest pain or pressure), dizziness, or lightheadedness. Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if these symptoms don't go away.

Staying with your plan

Here are some ideas to help you stay with your exercise plan.

  • Make exercise fun.

    Do activities you enjoy. Try exercising with a friend. It can be much easier to keep doing an exercise program if you exercise with someone else.

  • Set goals you can meet.

    If you expect too much, you're likely to get discouraged and stop exercising.

  • Give yourself time.

    It can take months to get into the habit of exercising. After a few months, you may find that you look forward to it.

  • Reward yourself.

    Build in rewards along the way that help you continue your program.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

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