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Beta blockers: How do they affect exercise?

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 13, 2022.

Beta blockers slow the heart rate, which can prevent the increase in heart rate that typically occurs with exercise. This means that it might not be possible for you to reach your target heart rate — the number of heartbeats per minute you typically aim for to ensure you're exercising hard enough.

No matter how hard you exercise when taking a beta blocker, you may never reach your target heart rate. Keep in mind that being unable to reach your previous target heart rate doesn't mean you're not getting heart benefits from exercise.

There's no precise way to predict the effect of beta blockers on your heart rate. An exercise stress test, which checks blood flow through the heart while riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill, can measure how hard the heart pumps. Your health care provider may recommend this test to determine your target heart rate.

If you don't have an exercise stress test, your care provider may recommend measuring your exercise intensity using a perceived exertion scale, such as the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale. This method relies on your judgment of how hard you think you're exercising based on effort, breathlessness and fatigue. Ask your health care provider for help finding and using an exertion scale.

For most workouts, the best bet is to aim for physical activity that feels somewhat hard — it takes effort but it's possible to continue to exercise. If you can't talk while you're exercising, you're probably overdoing it.

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