Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Diet and Atrial Fibrillation

Some of the medications that you take for atrial fibrillation may be affected by certain types of foods. If you are taking Warfarin (Coumadin®), talk to your doctor, dietitian or pharmacist about which foods you need to be careful about.

In some people, alcohol can cause atrial fibrillation to act up. If you find this is the case for you, then it is best to limit your intake.

If you are taking Warfarin, refer to the Anti-coagulation Booklet for more information about diet and anti-coagulation medications. 

Top 10 Tips for Healthy Eating

Making healthy food choices doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These tips will get you on your way.

  1. Cook at home more often. Cooking at home makes it easier to avoid processed foods. It can be as simple as scrambled eggs, whole-grain toast, and tomato and cucumber slices.
  2. How you eat is as important as what you eat. Enjoy mealtimes and the food you eat! Don’t multitask. Avoid distractions like your computer or TV while you eat. Sit down and enjoy a meal at the table. If you live with others, make family dinner a priority.
  3. Listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you feel satisfied.
  4. Eat at regular times. Eat breakfast within one to two hours after waking up. Don’t wait too long between your meals. It’s harder to make healthy choices when you’re hungry.
  5. Plan healthy snacks. Try whole-grain crackers and peanut butter or hummus, a piece of fruit and a few unsalted nuts, or frozen berries and plain yogurt.
  6. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruit at every meal. Enjoy brightly coloured whole vegetables and fruit. Fresh or frozen, try them in different ways—raw, roasted or sautéed.
  7. Eat whole grains more often. Switch to brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, dark rye bread or oatmeal. Try something new in your soup, salad or casserole like quinoa, bulgur or barley.
  8. Eat fish at least twice a week. Trout, salmon, tuna and sardines are some tasty options. Try fresh frozen or canned.
  9. Include legumes like beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds more often. Add them to salads, soups and grain dishes such as rice, quinoa or couscous. Legumes can replace meat in your meals. Try a vegetarian chili.
  10. Don’t be afraid of fat. You need fat for good health, and it adds flavour to your cooking. Use plant-based fats such as olive or canola oil.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

It is especially important to treat and control high blood pressure when you have atrial fibrillation. Follow the top 10 tips to healthy eating and use less salt at the table and in cooking. Ask the dietitian or check out our Prevention & Wellness Centre website for information about low salt and heart healthy eating.

Take your medication for high blood pressure regularly as prescribed by your doctor.

Diabetes and Prediabetes

There is now a lot of research and evidence telling us that people with atrial fibrillation and diabetes or prediabetes are at an even higher risk of stroke. It is especially important to keep your blood glucose (sugar) levels stable and within target range.

Ensure that you have your hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) checked every three to six months and discuss the results with your doctor. Aim for a target HbA1c of 7% or less. If you are having trouble reaching this target with lifestyle change, your doctor may recommend that you start diabetes medication.

For more information about diabetes and healthy blood glucose management, contact:

Diabetes Central – Intake and Referral Ottawa

  • Phone: 613-238-3722

Physical Activity and Atrial Fibrillation

You may feel uncertain about exercising, but we now know that regular exercise is good for people who have atrial fibrillation. In fact, regular exercise is very important for all aspects of your heart health.

For help with planning your exercise program, ask for a copy of our Physical Activity Guide.

Before getting back to regular exercise, talk to your doctor. Depending on your overall health and the medications you are taking, you may need to take certain precautions.

Once you have the OK from your doctor, plan to build up gradually. Aim to reach 30 minutes of exercise, four to seven days per week. It is more important to focus on the amount of time you exercise, as opposed to the distance or speed. Begin with an exercise time that is comfortable and manageable for you. Build up your exercise time gradually over a number of weeks.

It is important to exercise at the right level. You should be exercising at a moderate intensity, which allows you to improve the strength and circulation of your heart. You may use the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) to determine the intensity of your activity.

If you are worried that exercising may trigger an episode of atrial fibrillation, ask your doctor about our Cardiac Rehabilitation program. You may feel more comfortable starting to exercise in a supervised setting where you can get advice from our cardiac rehab specialists, or contact us at 613-696-7070. We can help you find a program that works best for you, even if you do not live in Ottawa.

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale
6 Nothing at all
7-8 Extremely light
9 Very light
11 Light
13 Somewhat hard
15 Hard (Heavy)
17 Very hard
19 Extremely hard
20 Maximum exertion



Nicotine stimulates the heart and can cause episodes of atrial fibrillation. If you smoke, quit.

Quitting smoking is the single most important thing you can do to improve your heart health. The Heart Institute’s Quit Smoking Program is available to all smokers who want to quit:


For some people, stressful events can trigger an episode of atrial fibrillation. Although you cannot prevent stress from entering your life, you can control how you think about stressful events, and this can impact how it affects your health.

Be physically active. Regular, low-impact, moderate exercise reduces both anxiety and depression.

Identify and use your support networks. Talk to friends and family.

Attend a stress management program (see below) and learn how to identify what causes your stress and how it affects you.

The Heart Institute’s Stress Management Program provides a skill-oriented Stress Management program that teaches a variety of techniques to better manage stress.

There are five 90-minute group sessions covering topics including:

  • Breathing techniques
  • Meditation and mindfulness practices
  • Improving assertive communication
  • Uncovering and changing negative thoughts
  • Sleeping tips and strategies

The courses take place at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, 40 Ruskin St., Ottawa. To register, call 613-696-7399. (There is a fee of $30 for materials.)

10 Tips for Emotional Health

  1. Practise deep breathing. Deep breathing relaxes your body and lowers your blood pressure and heart rate.
  2. Name your emotions. Naming your emotions helps you be more aware and helps you decide how you will react.
  3. Try not to judge your emotions. Judging our emotions can make them seem worse.
  4. Know your emotional triggers. Knowing what makes you angry, sad or anxious will help you be better prepared.
  5. Be more mindful. Be aware of what is around you and try to notice your thoughts and feelings.
  6. Move your body. Physical activity decreases anxiety and improves mood and self-esteem.
  7. Talk to someone you care about. Humans are social! Make time to talk and connect with others.
  8. Sleep well. Sleep is important for your mind and body.
  9. Stop “shoulds” in their tracks. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself about what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing.
  10. Do the things that make you happy. Identify the things that make you happy and make time for them.

Where to Get More Information

The following websites have lot of information about atrial fibrillation along with other information about living a healthy lifestyle.

Heart Institute Patient Alumni

 Patient Alumni logoWe Can Help. We Have Been There.

The Patient Alumni are a diverse community of current and former University of Ottawa Heart Institute patients and their families, friends and caregivers. We gratefully support the Institute by sharing information on advancements in the prevention and treatment of heart disease and by designating funds towards projects and services that improve patient comfort and care.

By joining the Alumni, you will become part of a very unique community!

The Heart Institute is the only hospital in Canada that has formed an alumni group to stay in contact with discharged patients and their families. For over 40 years, the Heart Institute has delivered worldclass care to thousands of patients. As Alumni members, we wish to stay in touch, stay informed, and contribute to the Institute’s quality of care and future success.

Why Join the Alumni?

Alumni membership is free of charge, thanks to the partnership and financial support of the Heart Institute and its fundraising Foundation.

As an Alumni member, you’ll get up-to-date information through our:

  • e-letters
  • Websites
  • Lectures, courses and special events

For more information and access to free membership, visit our website,

Or contact us at:
Telephone: 613-696-7241