6 Rules for People With an Irregular Heartbeat

6 Rules for People With an Irregular Heartbeat

Sex, exercise and other activities you should be doing with AFib.

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By Taylor Lupo

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart condition in which the heart pumps irregularly, either too quickly or too slowly. "AFib is one of the most common arrhythmias that cardiologists take care of," says Dr. Donald Orth, MD, a cardiologist with Lourdes Health System in Voorhees, New Jersey.

Arrhythmias are caused by abnormalities in the heart's electrical system, which can be the result of injuries or abnormalities in the heart, like coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, infection and sleep apnea. There are treatment options, such as medications, surgery and shock therapy. But, like many heart conditions, if AFib goes untreated, it can lead to a slew of complications, like blood clots, which can cause a stroke or heart failure.

Sometimes the cause of the atrial fibrillation is unclear. Treating the inciting cause is the first thing doctors will look to do; treating the atrial fibrillation is the second.

When AFib is under control, either by rate control or converting back to normal rhythm, jumping back into normal activities can be overwhelming, and even a little scary. But AFib needn’t make you a spectator to your own life. Here's what you need to know about living with an irregular heartbeat. There's some good news: Sex and exercise are expert-approved activities.

Regular sex is healthy

2 / 7 Regular sex is healthy

Once AFib is controlled, Orth recommends resuming normal activities. "Sex is fine, running is fine, gym work is fine. All these things are perfectly acceptable," he says.

There are proven health benefits to spending some time between the sheets, too. Sex can help alleviate headache pain and improve sleep, but doing the deed may be especially helpful for your heart. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology suggests men who have sex twice a week are less likely to develop heart disease than those who get busy just once a month.

Despite what you've seen in the movies, little evidence suggests sex is linked to cardiac-related deaths. In fact, results from one 2017 study suggest, of the more than 4,500 cases of sudden cardiac arrest, just 34 occurred during or within an hour of sexual intercourse.

Exercise is good for your heart

3 / 7 Exercise is good for your heart

Physical activity can help control weight, protect your heart and even boost your mood, so it’s important to make it part of your regular routine. Exercising with atrial fibrillation can actually improve cardiovascular strength, but you may want to take precautions.

People taking certain medications to treat AFib may want to avoid taxing exercises, like hiking and running. "Sometimes, [patients] have to avoid too much strenuous activity, if their heartrate is not well controlled," he says.

Speak with your doctor about the best for you. And if you experience a fluttering or pounding in your chest, fatigue or dizziness during activity, take a breather and report signs to your healthcare provider.

Orth also warns: Anticoagulants, medications that are often used, will increase your risk of bleeding, so take care to avoid bumps, scrapes and bruises. "We caution patients on anticoagulation of their risk of bleeding. The medications significantly reduce the chance of blood clotting and embolization of clots," he says.

It's best to manage your stress

4 / 7 It's best to manage your stress

Stress, the body's reaction to certain changes or stimuli, is part of normal life, and can often be a positive response that keeps us alert and out of danger.

However, people who experience stress often, or whose stressors never seem to go away, may be at an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, two potential causes of an irregular heartbeat.

Although one stressful experience may not throw your heart out of whack, it's not a bad idea to protect your heart whenever possible. Managing your stress is one way to do just that.

Stress management involves techniques that help quell the mental, physical and emotional aspects of stress. Regular exercise, adequate sleep and relaxation techniques, like meditation and yoga, can help get stress under control.

Traveling is encouraged—but be prepared

5 / 7 Traveling is encouraged—but be prepared

You bought your plane ticket and booked your hotel room, but now it's time to pack your bags, load the family into the car and get to the airport with enough time to get through security. Sure, venturing to a faraway place is fun, and it may even have some benefits for your brain. But the preparation to get to your destination can be anything but.

Stress, which can put a strain on your heart, is a known contributor to adverse conditions, like heart disease. There's some good news—it's safe for most people with heart conditions, including cardiac arrhythmia, to fly.

Some research suggests it's possible the change in air pressure during flight can provoke an irregular heartbeat, though it's not likely. It's best to be prepared anyway:

  • Pack your medication and keep your doctor's name and phone number handy.
  • Research medical facilities at your destination in case an issue arises.
  • Prolonged sitting can increase your risk for blood clots—get up and walk when possible.

A note about anticoagulants: These medications help protect against blood clots, so moving on an airplane isn't as urgent.

You can still enjoy your favorite foods and drinks

6 / 7 You can still enjoy your favorite foods and drinks

A well-balanced diet, rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats, is encouraged for everyone. But, eating a heart-friendly diet is especially important for someone with a heart condition. However, if you are on the anticoagulant Warfarin, vegetables rich in vitamin K, like kale and spinach, can alter the effects of the drug.

In addition to munching good-for-you foods, the American Heart Association also recommends limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats, sodium and sugar-sweetened treats and drinks.

But, even with an irregular heartbeat, the occasional indulgence is OK. "Some people are sensitive to certain beverages, like alcohol or too much caffeine, but this is not true with everybody," Orth says. Before pouring yourself a glass of wine or coffee, speak with your doctor about how these stimulants might affect you.

Orth does recommend caution around the holiday season. "What we call holiday heart syndrome, where people are drinking more alcohol than they're used to, may trigger atrial fibrillation," he says.

Regular weigh-ins help keep you on track

7 / 7 Regular weigh-ins help keep you on track

Maintaining a healthy weight is beneficial for many reasons—it can decrease your risk for diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

In fact, research from 2015 suggests obese patients with a heart rhythm disorder who lost at least 10 percent of their initial body weight, were more likely to overcome the condition than those who maintained their current weight.

There are a variety of steps to take on a journey to whittle your waistline, like keeping a food journal, planning healthy snacks and making an effort to move more throughout your day. One slimming tip in particular is even simpler—step on the scale.

Results from a 2017 study of 294 collage-aged women published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicines suggest, over a two-year period, women who weighed themselves daily decreased their body mass index more than those who didn't. Take a minute to step on the scale—your heart and your waistline will thank you.



A type of heart disease, arrhythmia causes our hearts to beat too fast, too slow or with an irregular rhythm. Even though there are more than a dozen forms of arrhythmia, only a handful of reasons typically cause them. A common ca...

use is coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease that affects adults. An injury from a heart attack and changes in your heart muscle can also cause an arrhythmia.