Can exercise, rather than drugs, be beneficial for premature ventricular contractions?
Or is it the other way around—that some kinds of exercise can increase PVC’s?
Sedentary Men with PVCs
Benefit from Exercise
• 196 sedentary middle-aged men who had PVCs were put on an exercise program for 18 months.
• For the men who adhered well to the regimen, the work threshold for the trigger of PVCs increased (meaning, a higher level of exercise was necessary to bring out the PVCs when compared to before the exercise program was implemented).
• Frequency of PVCs was reduced. (American Journal of Cardiology, 4/73, vol 31, issue 4)
So for starters, if you’re a middle-aged sedentary man who gets premature ventricular contractions, exercise will likely reduce these.
If light to medium exertion brings on PVCs (i.e., carrying a crate of books up the stairs), then as you become more conditioned from structured exercise, the amount of exertion needed to bring on PVCs will get higher.
Is there a “best” exercise for someone who has PVCs?
“Not getting enough exercise can trigger PVCs,” says Dr. John Day, a cardiologist and electrophysiologist, on his blog.
What’s NOT the best exercise for PVCs, says Dr. Day, is extreme activity—as in any kind of marathon-based activity like long-distance competitive cycling and triathlons.
If you have PVCs and engage in marathon work, he suggests you “scale back.”
For any given day, Dr. Day recommends getting in 10,000 steps (confirmed via pedometer) PLUS either half an hour of moderate intensity exercise OR 15 minutes of high intensity.
It seems intuitive that rhythmic aerobic exercise (hiking, incline walking, a step class, pedaling, running, sports like tennis) would be among the best exercises for premature ventricular contractions.
For overall heart health, this kind of exercise is strongly recommended by many cardiologists, the American Heart Association and the American Council on Exercise.
Exercise for EVERYONE with PVC’s
“In general, people should get a healthy amount of exercise,” says Daniel P. Morin, MD, FACC, Director of Electrophysiology Research and Director of Cardiovascular Research for the Ochsner Health System.
“Some types of PVC’s may be increased during exercise, as some PVC’s only occur during a certain range of background heart rate,” explains Dr. Morin.
“For the same reason, other PVC’s may disappear during exercise. Exercise by itself is rarely the direct cause of PVCs.”
If you’re normally sedentary, but exercise brings on PVCs, see a cardiologist for an assessment and individualized recommendations.
On the other hand, if you have PVCs at rest, and notice that they don’t occur when you exercise, that’s good news.
A third possibility is that you have premature ventricular contractions at rest, but they increase with exercise. Again, it’s best to see a cardiologist.
The type of cardiologist you should see is an electrophysiologist. This type specializes in the electrical activity of the heart, rather than the plumbing (arteries). This is a very important distinction.
• PVCs that seem to be triggered by exercise alone may actually be getting a boost from pre-exercise caffeine intake.
• Another potential trigger is anxiety over exercising causing PVCs!
• Keep track—though not with a worried mindset—of your pulse when you’re performing moderate-level duties of day-to-day living such as hauling around heavy garbage, carrying toddlers up a flight of stairs, playing with the kids in the backyard, chasing around the dog, etc.
Usually when performing these tasks you’re not thinking of your heart rate. Make a point of remembering to ask yourself, AFTER you’ve performed these tasks, “Did I have PVCs during any of that?”
There is no single specific exercise (e.g., walking lunges, certain yoga poses, leg pressing, dumbbell squats, Zumba) that’s been proven to be best for PVCs. But the heart and overall body just love consistent aerobic and strength training.
Dr. Morin’s clinical interests are in device therapy for cardiac dysfunction (including cardiac resynchronization therapy) and treatment of cardiac arrhythmias with medical therapy and/or catheter ablation.