Fear of exercise

How does one cope with this. Until relatively recently I used to keep myself fairly fit and whilst I realise I am in my 60s and not as able as in my earlier years, there is more than enough out there to present and enjoy the challenges. However of late I have become fearful of the feeling of the shortness of breath and fast beating heart that comes with exertion, all I feel physiologically linked to this wretched fear of provoking an AF attack. To ask how one gets over this, will give answers of strength of purpose and not letting it get the better of you etc., but it has and it does. The less exercise one takes the less fit you become, and the more difficult the day to day activities are to achieve, a vicious circle. And worse, the realisation that you just don't have the courage needed to push through this is so frustrating! Any thoughts?

35 Replies

  • I know exactly what you mean. At the start of my AF problems I was too scared to walk, shop or go out to see friends. Fear of an attack and the awful breathlessness ruled my life and my fitness level dropped, making things worse.

    My daily dog walks were up steep hills and along a mountain track and I set myself small, manageable bits until I could manage the lot again - the boost in confidence was immense. I used the jeep as a crutch at the beginning and gradually weaned myself off that too.

    Courage will come with success, however small - set yourself a small goal and go from there. Ignore the setbacks and work through the bad days.

    Best wishes

  • Good plan, perhaps I should take some of these replies in my pocket and read them when I start to wobble on my walk!

  • When I had yet another fracture out walking - it was a cracked pelvis and I was lucky that I was on a road with my phone and there was a signal - I bought a treadmill as soon as I was mobile again. I love it! You can walk when it's dark or freezing cold or raining and if your phone rings you can answer it. You don't see dead things at the side of the road, you don't get caught in a cloudburst, you don't meet neighbours who you don't like, nor chat for far too long with ones you do like. You know how far you travel and you can go on the flat or slightly uphill. Many advantages! You are always at home and can stop the minute you've had enough. But two of the nurses at my GP surgery gave me a talking to, saying that I deprived myself of the sights and sounds of the countryside and I do now go out again.

  • Rellim, this sounds like a very good idea! I had briefly thought of this in the past but didn't know of anyone who bought one of these. Very useful on cold wet days. What type do you have ?


  • It's a NordicTrack. I've had it for nearly three years and like it very much. It takes me about thirty miles a week. It can go far too fast - 20 speed settings. I've never been above no 8 which is a mild running speed. No 6 is 3.7mph. The slope is slightly pathetic. We've built a ramp for the treadmill to sit on to make it a little more challenging. It takes up quite a lot of space (though the ramp folds up) and is not the prettiest thing.

  • That sounds like the business! First I'm going to get my exercise bike out of the garage and get going on that before I mention treadmill to husband........

  • You might consider an elliptical vs. Treadmill walker, however, as it's easier on joints and feet and works arms, too. Mine is Nordic Track, as well.

  • Good for you. Treadmill at home means you can be indoors in inclement weather and outdoors to get the fresh air when it is nice....best of both worlds. I also bought myself a smallish stationery bike to use while I watch TV in the evening since sitting for a couple hours is so not good for us! I make sure that I bike at least 10-15 minutes out of every hour. Keep moving!

  • Thank you, how very alike many of us are!

  • Annaelizabeth, I do know just how you feel.

    As my AF was so violent ( no mild AF for me ) from the beginning I was really frightened to get my heart rate up and my GP s were no help. This is going back quite a few years. About 10 or so years ago I sought out the Rosemary Conley exercise/ diet class but my GP would not sign the consent form for me to join in the exercise part! ( I continued and lost 2.5 stones very quickly by diet alone) . As a result of all this I have allowed myself to get quite unfit.

    Even now I'm still wary getting my heart rate too high as my attacks of AF are always preceded by very fast rates which wake me up.

    I used to be very fit in my 20s/30s.

    I haven't given you an answer have I ?! I can just empathise .


  • Yes you can!! Thank you

  • HI Annaelizabeth,

    You are not alone as those above have indicated and all have had their way of getting passed "THE BARRIER"! I was similar. Those Nurses had a very simple secret which very few medical folk seem to pursue: think about what you are eating and exercise!

    I have turned round and come home because of that aching chest and the fear of the world collapsing round you but you have to take it in easy stages and set small targets. I put a pedometer in my pocket. Omron do one for 12-15 quid off Amazon. Just the job and waves to you when you reach 10,000 steps!

    Getting through that front door to make the walk is the psychological barrier. I believe it was the drugs that held me back. They tried them all along with the puffer and pill under the tongue. I think the Bendrofluithiazide for Hypertension set my AF off originally. A kick up the proverbial would have been 100 times better. When you get out there walking you really have cracked it.

    I went to a Heart Rehabilitation Class at the local Sports Centre. Yes, my Doctor signed the form to allow me to exercise. But just that one hour a week reaped miracles with the comradeship of those around me and good qualified staff supervision. Mind, group working is not everyone's cup of tea and I am a bit of a loner but the encouragement from others is very important.

    We have an AF group in York and meet this Saturday (tomorrow). Same sort of thing - getting encouragement and information.

    Anything happening with your nearest U3A group. They sometimes have a keep fit group.

    Take care,


  • Thank you, lovely helpful reply - it appears that no matter how many brave words there are, sometimes they are just that, brave words which we wish so much could push us over that barrier.

  • Like that below SRM. We all need the loving.

    Now then Annaelizabeth, get out there and give it some welly. You can do it. Gently at first, even if you walk round the house!


  • Oh yes, part of the dirty tricks of AF is that it makes us fearful to do the things we need to do, and we most definitely need to be exercising. I remember when I was first diagnosed in 2002 I saw a cardiologist, and I asked him what to do next and he simply said, "Go to the ER if it happens again" Clearly this was not going to be my guy, so I found my EP a few months later and his first admonition was "Exercise the hell, out of your heart" and then he sat me down with someone to teach me relaxation techniques for breathing. We need to find a way to be brave, and use the relaxation techniques to help to be calm and the exercise to be strong. What you want, what we all want, is a vicious cycle of courage, strength, increased fitness, better heart health as we cope with whatever AF dishes out. Be brave! Be well!

  • Thank you, I really do try to be brave, but sometimes I falter and need that extra courage.

  • We all do. It's a challenge. Hugs to you.

  • In an earlier post on exercise, I mentioned the rebounder rebound-air.com.

    These help with more than exercise. Several companies make them. The cheap ones are not as good on your body and are not recommended. They help the lymphatic system, reduce wrinkles and that alone makes them interesting!!

  • Take a look at the comparison to a treadmill on the site under "rebounding benefits".

  • I'm 67 , look at my posts & you will see the similarity.

  • Hi Anna, I suggest you have to grit your teeth and go through the phases of AF (as already mentioned) or you need to do more with supplements,relaxation and other action mentioned here.

    Looking back over the last two years (I am the same age, fitness level with Lone PAF), I started exactly like you and I am now at a point when 90% of the confidence is back. A point that helped me with confidence initially was to identify my Trigger points and avoid them. Good Luck!

  • I am constantly told by my EP that exercise is good and needs to be done. I do regular pilates classes, swim and yoga, take supplements and carry on with my everyday life. However the problem starts if I want to exert the heart, let us say in walking a steep hill, i.e. down and up, which takes 30 mins to do. Now this will make me sweat, out of breath and raise the heart rate - all of which is perfectly normal whether you are in permanent af or NSR. But because I have AF those very normal reactions on exertion terrify me even though it obviously only happens for the 15 min of the up slope. I don't see that as pushing myself, I see that as a must, and this is from EP and cardio, to maintain a strong heart. And that I suppose is the crux of my posts!

  • Aaah clearer, great lifestyle choices.

    I would just add that I use a Nordic walking pole as a crutch both physically and mentally and find gradually I am tackling steeper hills. Medics advice varies - my cardiologist said play tennis, my EP said don't. You therefore have to make your own mind up, hence the value of this Forum. In the early days, I had to keep stopping going up even small hills.

    I have changed from tennis to table tennis and from running to brisk walking with Nordic poles twice day for 1 mile each time. You seem to be doing plenty of exercise already.

  • I'm with you - I need to do far more exercise. It's part of the AF jigsaw I think, just trying to do what we can to make things better. I know I believe if my heart is healthy and strong I will cope with the AF better and I'm just trying to persuade myself to do this, so I am in the same position as you, a little worried about doing things but really feeling more positive after reading everyone's post's.

    I have a little trampoline (like EngMac's rebounder) and I enjoy that but don't do it often enough. I'm going to start by doing more bouncing!

  • Thank you for taking the time to reply, it does help hugely to know one in not alone, that in itself does wonders for the spirit, which at times takes a pounding!

  • Hi, you are not alone with this fear. I too am no longer a Spring chick and worry what will happen if I get my heart rate up too high. Moderate regular exercise is what I have been advised to do. I think you just need to listen to your body, and there is nothing wrong with having a rest during exercise sessions if you feel it is too much, as this is better than anxiety build up! Be kind to yourself.

  • I am in persistent AF. I can walk normally and take the dog put for a walk every morning. However if I push myself too hard at other times doing things I not only break out into a sweat (even at this time of year!!!) and then my hear does real jiggles. For about 15 to 30 mins afterwards the AliveCor shows loads of squiggles up and down between the main (irregular beats) and it is obviously cells in the vein(s) that are generating electrical signals. Certainly by an hour later they have all subsided and I am back to my baseline irregular self!!!

  • Such a mean thing this AF, thank you for replying.

  • I have just started a mindfulness course offered from Monash university for free. 6 weeks and about 3-4 hours per week. Started a week ago but I'm sure you'd still get in. Anything to get confidence back.

  • I have done and you suggested and started the Monash thing, I think the rewiring of the brain is going to play a big part, as long as the lonely braincell realises that as well - thank you!

  • Hi Annaelizabeth. What can I say but GOOD JOB! OK, so here's another challenge. After reading your comment, I went for a 15 minute walk yesterday. Half the heart bopping along to a tune of it's own and the other half letting me know it was a bit anxious about the whole thing. But I got through it and am just about to go again, so the crux of the story is, if I can, you can. Give it a go and keep me posted.

  • will look out for you on Monash!

  • There's a very good saying . If you don't use it , you lose it ! I'm 61 with persistent AF and I had a stroke 18 months ago. I'm still working 3 days a week and on my feet all day . My dog gets me out and won't let me rest until, we go. My partner bought me an excercise bike , do as much or as little when you want. I agree with everything else that's been said . My worry is winding up chair bound like my mother who had AF . She got to a point where she was afraid to do anything . So 10 years of her life was spent saying ' if only ' . That thought pushes me on . I've always been a bit of a gym bunny and the over 50's classes are wonderful . I find other people have worse complaints than me ! The doctors have all told me excercise and good diet is key . It's the stress you need to avoid !


  • Brilliant reply, thank you so much.

  • Just one other thought, there are many, like myself, who are on their own, and don't have the luxury of a partner or dog to help spur them on, so the support and encouragement from all the posts become my spur to get over myself!!

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