September is National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month, the perfect time to explore this serious, sometimes life-threatening heart condition that affects over 200,000 people a year in the United States alone. Atrial Fibrillation (AFib, as it’s sometimes called) is a form of abnormal heart rhythm caused by lack of coordination between the heart’s upper (atrial) and lower (ventricular) chambers. Symptoms may include palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, or even fatigue—“drums pounding, thunder rumbling, or fish flopping” in the chest, as the Heart Rhythm Society so eloquently describes it.
AFib also carries an inherent risk for stroke and pulmonary embolism.
This makes exercising with AFib a complicated matter. Strenuous exercise can cause the heart to race, precipitate drops in blood pressure, and make one feel dizzy or faint. But that doesn’t mean lower impact exercise, such as walking, is out of the question. In fact, walking can prove quite beneficial to the health and longevity of a person living with AFib.
Aside from its long-term health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and resting heart rate and improved mental well-being, walking can help reduce the onset of AFib symptoms. And it’s great for AFib sufferers because you can start slow while gradually improving their conditioning at a rate that is comfortable and safe.
The first step is to determine your fitness for exercise—a determination that should be made with the help of a physician. From there, it’s all about developing a routine that works. Here’s a good benchmark: an easy walk around the block, once a day, three times a week, can make a drastic impact on your life. Try this for two weeks, then build on it.
As conditioning improves and the heart adjusts to exercise, power walking and hiking are other options that can help keep the routine fun and engaging. Of course, it’s always a good idea to monitor heart rate when exercising with AFib. Should you experience a sudden onset of symptoms, you should stop exercising and, if necessary, seek medical attention.
From the perspective of a physical therapist, the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill is particularly well suited for sufferers of atrial fibrillation, especially those that experience shortness of breath and other symptoms during even light exercise. The AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill lowers body weight and impact, meaning less stress on the patient’s heart and optimal conditions for low-risk exercise. In addition, the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill can monitor heart rate, making it a useful tool in cardiac rehabilitation, so that patients can establish solid footing on which to build a lifelong walking routine.
National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month is important for many reasons. Some people don’t know this condition exists at all. Others suffer from this condition and don’t know how to approach exercise. No matter what, AFib is manageable, and healthy, goal-driven exercise can play a key role in the journey.
A focused walking routine is a wonderful place to start.