Exercising with a Heart Arrhythmia

Inspire Blog |

Lincs Inspire Leisure member, Steven Shaw, has been managing heart arrhythmias since 2005. These irregularities in the heart’s rhythm are caused by abnormal electrical signals being received from the brain. The medical terms are atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation.

The arrhythmias have had a big effect on Steven’s life, with symptoms including breathlessness, fatigue, and palpitations. 

When these were at their worst, Steven struggled to do much during the day at all, spending a lot of time sitting and struggling to climb the stairs without being out of breath.

Despite this, he’s always led an active lifestyle and had a positive mindset. He’s continued to exercise before and after various procedures he’s undergone over the years – adapting the workouts where necessary.

During one of his procedures in 2016, Steven went into cardiac arrest and had to have CPR to bring him back around. The experience had a huge impact on his outlook on life.

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Steven said: “It was a strange feeling; everything just went black. I didn’t know anything about it. The next thing I can remember is hearing somebody shouting my name. And then gradually, light started coming in again, I couldn’t see properly, but I was conscious of light.

“The first thing I saw was a nurse's face immediately above me. Then I realised something was pressing down on me - it was the nurse doing chest compressions. They carried on and I could start to hear more voices, the consultant saying to administer so many milligrams of adrenaline. Gradually, all my senses switched back on. It was like they came on one by one - I could hear first, and then I could see bits of light, then I could make out the nurse’s face, and I had some idea of what she was doing. Then, suddenly, I was back in the room.

"When I was in the recovery room afterwards, I started thinking about my family and about if the outcome had been different. I started thinking about the impact on other people, about my wife and my kids. The realisation gave me even more incentive to do as much as I can, it gave me a different outlook completely."

If I hadn't been quite as physically fit and using the gym, my heart as a muscle might not have been quite as well trained and the outcome might have been different.


With the help and support of Jenny, Mo and the fitness team at Grimsby Leisure Centre, Steven has learnt to adapt his exercises, manage his heart rate, and listen to his body.

Once a competitive runner and keen indoor rower, Steven’s priorities have now changed, with health and wellbeing quite rightly being at the top of the list.

“As a little rule to myself now, I never go ten tenths anymore. I know what I can and can’t do and have new limitations. I never go to the extent of where I feel I’m exerting myself to the absolute limit. I’m not going to try to beat my best 2k time on the rower because it’s just not worth going there. So, I just stick at eight tenths.

“I had this expectation that I could continue to exercise like I did in my prime, followed by disappointment at the realisation I couldn’t - it's about accepting that. Rather than pulling muscles, injuring myself and making myself ill, realising that I'm at this stage in my life. I'm not doing so bad, I'm okay for where I am. I don’t need to try and pull all those trees up.

“Mo says: “look at what you can do rather than what you can’t and only focus on improving what you can. Don't get disheartened about what you can't.” I think that’s a good way of looking at it.

“I don't push my heart rate over a certain beats per minute, I operate within a reasonable scale, where I’m getting a good workout, but not at my max. I moderate things according to my health because that's the most important thing for me. For everyone.”

Active Forever

Active Forever

Lincs Inspire manage four leisure centres across Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Immingham, including the Wellness Hub at Grimsby Health & Wellbeing Centre. Specialist power-assisted equipment in the Wellness Hub offers gentle forms of exercise, relaxation and socialising, ideal for people with long term health conditions, those recovering from a health condition, or those awaiting treatment.

As Steve’s story shows, pre-habilitative activity can help make a significant difference to the ability to cope with medical treatment and support swifter recovery.

If you are aged over 18 years and living with a health condition or undergoing rehabilitation, speak to your GP or health practitioner to see if you are eligible for our 12-week referral programme Active Forever.

For a short time only, you may qualify for a fully funded place thanks to Government funding.

More info