Physical activity and exercise advice for patients with an
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)
Is it safe to exercise?
The simple answer to this question is yes, but
the full answer is influenced by the cause and
type of your heart rhythm problems and the
type of exercise you perform. The likelihood of
an arrhythmia is no greater during moderate
exercise than during resting but there are
certain types of exercise that may increase
If you exercise vigorously from rest, without a
warm-up, and immediately cease exercise, without
a cool down or active recovery period
you increase the likelihood of arrhythmia.
How might exercise affect my ICD?
Your ICD can detect an abnormal heart rhythm
(arrhythmia) in a number of ways, one of which relates
to the speed of the heart during the arrhythmia.
Most arrhythmias treated with ICDs will be
significantly faster than your normal heart rate
would reach, even with strenuous exercise.
Occasionally however, the ICD needs to be programmed
to recognise abnormal heart rates
that are close to those that can be achieved
with exercise. For this reason, it is worthwhile
to check how your ICD is programmed before
undertaking anything other than recreational
exercise or exercise to lose weight.
If you are concerned about your safe
exercise level, you should ask your ardiologist,
cardiac physiologist or arrhythmia/ICD nurse
Is there any exercise I definitely can’t do?
For most forms of exercise it is recommended that
someone who knows that you have an ICD accompanies
you. You should ensure that you have
your ICD card with you AT ALL TIMES, in case you
need to be taken to hospital for any reason.
You should not undertake any contact sports.
Although the ICD itself is very tough, bruising or
breaking the skin over the implant site may lead
to infection. Swimming can be undertaken once
the implant wound has healed fully.
You will not be able to take part in any form
of competitive motor sport, as you will not be
eligible for an appropriate licence. Regular
driving should be discussed with your
cardiologist. Latest regulations for ICD patients
can be found on our DVLA information page or on the DVLA website:
You should also avoid any sport (or indeed any
situation) where you might be exposed to strong
magnetic or electrical fields or a powerful radio
source (radio-controlled planes, cars, boats, etc
may be a problem).
So what can I do?
Research has shown that physical activity and
exercise are beneficial for people fitted with an
It is likely that your underlying heart condition
will have more influence on your ability to
exercise than the presence of your ICD. Your
underlying heart condition may limit your
exercise due to shortness of breath, fatigue
or chest pain - these should not
Physical activity and exercise should be
progressed slowly. The key is to avoid
becoming too breathless during exercise,
as this will sap your strength and make
your heart work too hard. All exercise
sessions should start with a warm-up and
finish with a cool-down period, both of which
should last for approximately ten minutes, so
that your body and heart have time to adjust.
In general, most exercises should be performed
standing, with horizontal (lying down) and
seated arm exercises kept to a minimum. Seated
arm exercise with weights may increase the
workload on your heart too much leading to
an increased likelihood of an arrhythmia.
Physical activity and exercise can be very useful
in helping people with an ICD to become more
confident and active. Exercise as described above
is safe with a warm up and cool down period.
You should always contact us
if you think you have had a shock. Any
further questions please contact the Arrhythmia Nurse Specialist on 01273 696955 Ext 4071.
Courtesy of Arrhtyhmia Alliance. Registered Charity No. 1107496 ©2010