Want to sidestep AFib symptoms? Try these tips
When you’re diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, you might think that life as you know it is over. Now you have to watch for triggers, be prepared to handle sudden symptoms, and generally keep a lower profile than other heart-healthy people.
In reality, there’s plenty that you can do to keep living the life you want – or make it an even happier, healthier, and more rewarding existence.
It’s true that heart palpitations, chest discomfort, and anxiety are not fun to live with. But although it can be difficult to completely eradicate AFib symptoms, you can diminish their severity and frequency by making some clear and straightforward lifestyle changes. If you want to take your health seriously, consider these approaches to a stronger cardiovascular system.
Tip #1: Make exercise a part of your life
You’ve heard it before, but it can’t be said often enough: if you want to improve your energy, strengthen your heart, and increase your longevity, you need to make exercise a part of your everyday routine. Of course, living with AFib means minding your limits, so you’ll need to moderate your workout routine with the help of sound medical advice from your doctor and a keen focus on your body’s signals.
Strenuous exercise can make an irregular heartbeat worse, but moderate exercise can bring long-term benefits, like weight loss and lower blood pressure – and that can help you ward off heart failure, which is a major risk for AFib patients. Consider a routine that balances regular, moderate aerobic exercise with stretching and strengthening activities like yoga. For more information, be sure to check out our “Exercising with AFib” article.
Tip #2: Minimize stress as much as possible
Not only is stress a common trigger for AFib, it appears to affect the severity of symptoms, too. Psychological stress, which can manifest in forms like anxiety and depression, has prompted patients to visit their doctor more often with AFib complaints. Likewise, if you’re prone to anxiety or high-stress states, even moderate AFib symptoms could feed the cycle.
Stress is personal and unique – your stress relief program should be as well. The first step is to be more observant: learn what brings on stress, where it tends to happen, and why you have such a difficult time controlling it. Then, explore your options. From innovative workouts to face-to-face therapy sessions, there are plenty of stress-relieving resources at your fingertips (and no reason to wait any longer to try them).
Tip #3: Reduce your salt intake
High-sodium lifestyles are the norm in North America, and they’re slowly chipping away at our health. It’s true you need salt to live, but when you take in too much – more than 1500 mg a day – your body’s mineral balance is thrown off, your blood pressure can go up, and your heart rhythm can suffer. Not a good combination for anyone, especially people with AFib.
One simple first step is to decrease the amount of sodium you eat, which means drastically reducing frozen, processed, or takeaway meals. Pay close attention to labels (some foods have a surprising amount of sodium) and get used to cooking with flavorful herbs and spices rather than salt. You may also want to pay more attention to your minerals: electrolyte imbalances can feed AFib, so it might be time to up your magnesium and potassium to counter the sodium you take in.
Tip #4: Watch out for stimulants like caffeine and alcohol
Stimulants can feel great when you’re consuming them, but your heart often bears the health burden. If you’re prone to heart rhythm irregularities, you’re probably even more vulnerable to an adverse reaction to stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs.
Remember that stimulants can hide in products that seem harmless. Coffee and cola are prime caffeine sources, but caffeine can also be found in pain relievers and chocolate treats. Energy drinks are some of the worst offenders: they’re loaded with stimulating compounds, so even if they’re labeled “caffeine-free” you should avoid them altogether.
Alcohol is one of the most common stimulants, and it has a direct impact on heart health. Even a couple of drinks can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of palpitations, so moderation is key. Wondering what moderation looks like for AFib sufferers? It can come down to personal physiology, so listen to your body and talk with your doctor.
Tip #5: Try your best to avoid infections like the flu and more
Getting sick is never comfortable, but it can be dangerous when you live with AFib. The flu is particularly threatening: symptoms like high fever can lead to dehydration, and respiratory problems causing hypoxia can stress your cardiovascular system.
Your best defenses against the flu are frequent hand washing and the annual flu shot. Worried that this year’s vaccine won’t offer much protection? It’s still worth getting, because even if you were to contract the flu, the symptoms could be much more manageable – and that can make a big difference when those symptoms are known to interfere with your heart disorder.
Implement these tips by establishing a routine
How long does it take to form a habit? A lot depends on how difficult it is to adopt, and how quickly you can weave it into your daily routine. Some research suggests that it takes a little over two months for a new behaviour to become automatic, which means you’ll have to stay focused on your lifestyle changes for a while, especially when it comes to tips like exercise and eating well.
It’s easy to slide into old patterns, especially when life gets hectic. You may fare better with some support, like working out with a group or joining conversations in online forums to share challenges and tips on keeping (or kicking) a specific habit. The idea is to make it as easy as possible on yourself to adopt positive, lasting changes for the good of your heart.