Beta blockers are a type of cardiac medication prescribed after a heart attack or to treat abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and other conditions. They slow down your heartbeat, and that raises a common question about them: Do they affect your ability to exercise?
The answer can vary a great deal, depending on the severity of your condition, so checking with your health care professional is vital. It’s also important to understand how these drugs affect your heart.
Beta blocker basics
Beta blockers relieve stress on your heart by slowing the heartbeat. This decreases the force with which the heart muscle contracts and reduces blood vessel contraction in the heart, brain and throughout the body. They are prescribed under several common brand names, such as Propranolol (Inderal), Metoprolol (Lopressor), Atenolol (Tenormin) Acebutolol (Sectral), Bisoprolol (Zebeta) and Nadolol (Corgard).
Beta blockers may be used to treat abnormal heart rhythms and to prevent abnormally fast heart rates called tachycardia, or irregular rhythms such as atrial fibrillation. Since they reduce the demand of the heart muscle for oxygen, they may be useful in treating angina, or chest pain, which occurs when the oxygen demand of the heart exceeds the supply. Beta blockers improve survival after a heart attack and also are used to treat high blood pressure and other heart conditions.
Concerns about exercising while on beta blockers
It's important to remember that your heart rate is being slowed and you may need to adjust your target heart rate or how fast the heart should beat during exercise.
There are a couple of ways to monitor your exercise intensity.
- If you have been using a target heart rate to get to the right intensity, your health care professional can help to determine your new target heart rate using a brief exercise stress test. This test is used because beta blockers affect everyone differently.
- The second way to monitor your intensity is simpler — making sure you’re not too exhausted.
The American Heart Association recommends you get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. When done at moderate intensity, your heart will beat faster and you’ll breathe harder than normal, but you’ll still be able to talk.
I’m still worried, what do I do?
It is important to know you are taking these medications for a specific reason. But if you are still concerned, talk to your health care professional. They may prescribe a different beta blocker or another medication that has less of an effect on your heart rate.