Thursday, 28 May 2009

I keep meaning to start this blog again. Well I have just done an email for another purpose which sort of fills the bill for where I am. So here is my slightly adapted response to a young fella who was asking about exercise and AF. He's in a much harder position than I, being young and loving the adrenaline of hard exercise.

Being 63 I am at a different point in life but I will try to summarise my approach to exercise and AF. Sorry this is very long but there may be something in it for you.

I had been reasonably active and fit till about 1990 when we moved to Aberdeenshire. About 10 years ago I started to get a bit fitter, jogging mainly and some cycling. I was planning for being fitter and doing things that I had always wanted to do when the children grew up, the current ones are my second "brood".

Our youngest is now 17 and I had reckoned that by this time I would be doing well. However the AF got in the way. I couldn't jog without setting it off so developed my cycling. I used to cycle a lot when young but had got into kayaking, skiing and climbing. However despite many hundreds of AF events over the years, some lasting a week or so I have always self converted. Initially they were short and only in the last year or so have they got longer and now I just expect them to self convert sometime soon.

Psychologically I also found AF very depressing. I had planned to do so much at this time of my life and all the info I found said this embuggerance was likely to kill me and certainly stop me doing all the things I wanted. Things that all through life I had promised myself.

I slowly found info that encouraged exercise, which fitted in with my view of life. So I did more cycling since I could manage the pulse rate better than jogging.

One significant day about 6 years ago was over Cairn O Mount near Edzell which is a fabulous run perhaps 40 miles and 3.5-4000 feet of climbing. It was raining, a bit wild and it is fairly isolated. I had an AF episode and carried on slowly up the climb. I felt significantly at risk but I could always go down. It eventually cleared. So I reckoned in the future I could always go on but should avoid the more risky situations. So no remote mountaineering, careful where cycling, probably no significant kayaking - could be at greater risk if stuck or having a big swim. It was in fact a turning point - coming through a bad day meant I could do it again but I was still very scared about the threat of AF.

I had completely written of the max effort training, it brought on AF. I was working towards longer steady cycling. I found as I got fitter I felt better. I could do some of what I wanted. For my 60th birthday I went cycling in the Alps with long steady 75% max heart rate efforts which I really enjoyed and got me quite fit. Been to the Alps a couple of times since. They have been great trips but I have found I get tired very easily - I do not recover so well. Its partly not being able to get the training in before going. But this is part of the recovery issue.

The recovery issue is partly age, life style but also I think the AF.

I do weights but again I have found I am forced to do pushy but not max work outs. Sets of 5 work better than 10 because the strength basis takes less recovery. But even the 5 are not max. But now I am more into maintenance rather than big gains.

Meanwhile my AF has become much more frequent. At the same time I have realised I can do much of what I want despite the AF, just at a lower level. So now I train a little with weights, am back jogging (that was very emotional) cycling, kayaking, some rock climbing and plan some decent mountain walking. The idea of a few biggish rock climbs is slowly developing its appeal.

My AF is vagal linked but also very much sympathetic which is why I have tended to rule out exercise as the cause, exercise for me can stop AF, taking a few weeks off does not clear it up. However as I have read more and more I am forced to acknowledge that longer hard exercise for me stimulates and may contribute to AF. A couple of my earlier posts give some references for published papers and if you would like them I can post again.

So for now I have limited my training time to 45 minutes if I am working hard. This year I started doing a very simple 6x30 second efforts cycling with long (4.5mins) rest. They are reasonably flat out but very rarely trigger AF. I think this may be because in effect the effort is significantly anaerobic because it is so short, heart rate lags well behind. I can do them in AF. I am back kayaking a lot as I am planning to go to Austria with one of my boys this summer so the cycling has taken a back seat. White water kayaking is pretty lazy. It requires short efforts rather than long ones so seems to work OK despite being on the river for several hours.

As soon as I increase the cycling effort to 1 minute I find I need to be steadier in my efforts - especially if I am in arrhythmia. If I could get out more often I would try some 5 minute hill repeats - only 3 or 4 in a session but for me they would be more rewarding. I expect them to be fine and plan them later in the year. However they are still likely to be moderated at low 80s% max effort and I would now not expect to reach 85-95% max heart rate as I used to. Will report back on how they go.

If I go out for longer trips then it is at a much lower effort - so far below 65% max even when climbing. It is early days but for me it is working.

Of course I am an old git so some of what I do comes from that. I am no longer so bothered about high intensity work outs. But if I could I am sure I would!! For me it is absolutely part of life to get out, so being out is more important than intensity. So it is absolutely wonderful to be able to do these things when I really thought I would never do them again. I now have some fantastic memories that inspire me, so I know I can repeat and do more.

Having felt I would be unlikely to have another ten years and not be able to do very much of what I wanted in whatever time I had I now look forward. The next ten years will be good - for what I will be able to do and the family I will watch grow. I'll see about the following ten after that!

I met a gent takling some Monros 20 years ago who finished his sentences about what he was going to do with "if I am spared". I used to chuckle at his phrase. I now feel he was a man of insight. AF has taught me to respect and value that phrase in a whole new way.

I was also chatting about you to my 17 year old son Stu who is very much into getting fit, does a lot of Crossfit stuff, olympic lifting etc.. He used to play rugby but now into judo. He very much shared my sympathies for your position and the loss you must feel. Decathlon is one of the best all round tests of fitness - speaks volumes about you on its own.

Your value does not just lie in your fitness but in you in all sorts of ways.

There is a site for cardiac athletes at:
There are a few folk with arrhythmia problems on the forum so that might be a useful resource, as well as some others with stunning problems and still working out.