Encouraging Safe Exercise in a Heart Disease Patient
If you have a loved one who's recently been diagnosed with heart disease or had heart surgery, the doctor probably told you that exercise is an important part of keeping the condition under control. But is it safe for your loved one to keep exercising like he/she has been, or does your loved one need to make some changes? And what exercises are best?
Here are some things to discuss with your loved one's doctor:
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our September 2011 issue, we gave a reader's question about preventing heart disease to James Beckerman, MD, WebMD's heart health expert.
Q : Heart disease runs in my family. What can I really do now to help prevent it?
A : Cut out these five things to greatly reduce your risk:
Smoking (or hanging around with smokers). Smoking is the most dangerous -- yet most reversible...
Medication changes. New drugs can greatly affect your response to exercise; your loved one's doctor can tell you if his/her normal exercise routine is still safe.
Heavy lifting. Make sure that lifting or pushing heavy objects and chores such as raking, shoveling, mowing, or scrubbing aren't off limits. Chores around the house can be tiring for some people; make sure your loved one only does what he/she is able to do without getting tired.
Safe exercises. Get the doctor's approval before you let your loved one lift weights, use a weight machine, jog, or swim.
General Workout Tips for People With Heart Disease
Be sure any exercise is paced and balanced with rest if you have heart disease.
Ask your doctor about avoiding isometric exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups. Isometric exercises involve straining muscles against other muscles or an immovable object.
Don't let your loved one exercise outdoors when it is too cold, hot, or humid. High humidity may cause him or her to tire more quickly; extreme temperatures can interfere with circulation, make breathing difficult, and cause chest pain. Better choices are indoor activities such as mall walking.
Make sure your loved one stays hydrated. It is important to drink water even before you feel thirsty, especially on hot days.
Extremely hot and cold showers or sauna baths should be avoided after exercise. These extreme temperatures increase the workload on the heart.
Have your loved one steer clear of exercise in hilly areas. If he or she must walk in steep areas, make sure your loved one slows down when going uphill to avoid working too hard. Have your loved one monitor his or her heart rate closely and discuss with the doctor what level of heart rate is safe.
If your loved one's exercise program has been interrupted for a few days (for example, due to illness, vacation, or bad weather), make sure that he or she eases back into the routine. Start with a reduced level of activity, and gradually increase it until your loved one is back where he or she started.
Exercise Precautions for Those With Heart Disease
There are many precautions a caregiver must keep in mind when developing an exercise program for a loved one with heart disease. Keep the following exercise tips in mind.
Stop the exercise if your loved one becomes overly fatigued or short of breath; discuss the symptoms with his or her doctor or schedule an appointment for evaluation.
Do not encourage exercise if your loved one is not feeling well or has a fever. Heart patients should wait a few days after all symptoms disappear before restarting the exercise program, unless their doctor gives other directions.
Stop the activity if your loved one develops a rapid or irregular heartbeat or has heart palpitations. Check his or her pulse after he or she has rested for 15 minutes. If it's still above 100-120 beats per minute, call the doctor for further instructions.