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What Causes Heart Palpitations During Exercise?

Nadia Santiago
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Women swimming freestyle

Heart palpitations are experienced as a racing, fluttering, or throbbing heartbeat that is felt through the head, neck, or chest. Palpitations are sometimes accompanied by breathlessness and feelings of anxiety. Causes of heart palpitations during exercise vary, but they can usually be attributed to your fitness level or health history.

Causes of Heart Palpitations During Exercise

It is common for most people to experience an increase in heart rate during exercise, sometimes so much so that it feels like your heart is pounding. This is particularly true while performing certain types of workouts.

  • Cardiovascular training specifically targets the heart and the lungs. Over time, cardio improves your body's ability to supply oxygen to your muscles. While performing this type of exercise, you may find that your heart beats faster than usual.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is performed by alternating between periods higher levels of intense exercise and periods of rest. The goal is to burn more fat in less time by working harder. Since it is more challenging than most workout varieties, it may feel like your heart is thumping against your chest and you may feel short of breath.
  • Weight training is a form of exercise that activates your muscles to build strength. While some people lift moderate level weights for toning and general fitness, others, such as bodybuilders, lift heavy. Weightlifters may experience heart palpitations as a pounding in your ears or throat, or a fluttering sensation.

You may also experience heart flutters when you're pushing yourself too hard or if you are a beginner who is new to exercise and trying to get in shape. Of course, if neither of these situations is true, you should consider alternative factors. According to the University of Iowa's Hospitals and Clinics website, some top causes of palpitation symptoms include stress, consuming too much caffeine, lack of sleep, and physical activity. The Harvard Medical School also has an informative list of triggers on their Health blog.

Are Palpitations During Exercise Dangerous?

It is unknown whether exercise alone causes heart palpitations that could be considered dangerous. Researchers of a study in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation found that exercise has such drastic effects on heart rate, that it's difficult to tell at first glance whether palpitations during exercise should be cause for alarm. However, that doesn't mean you should ignore them if they occur.

When to Consult Your Doctor

Although authors of a 2016 assessment in the BMJ noted that most experiences of heart palpitations are harmless, they also indicate that it's better to be safe than sorry. They suggest that you consult your physician if you experience heart palpitations and:

  • Dizziness
  • Persistent shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

All these instances may warrant further evaluation from a medical professional. This is especially important if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease.

Pay Attention

The best thing you can do every time you exercise is to pay attention. Notice how your body is feeling throughout the workout. If you do experience heart palpitations, slow down or stop completely. Make sure to write down what type of exercise you were doing when they occurred so that you can recall the details during your visit. It may also be helpful to write down what you ate or if you had any energy drinks beforehand, since that may also have triggered the episode. When it comes to your heart health, safety is key. Work with your doctor to come up with a plan for exercising in the future that keeps your heart healthy.

What Causes Heart Palpitations During Exercise?