When you've been diagnosed with heart disease or have had heart surgery, the doctor probably told you that exercise is an important part of keeping your condition under control. But is it safe to keep exercising like you have been, or do you need to make some changes? And what exercises are best?
Heart disease has haunted generations of Robin Drummond's family. "I have a
family history of
heart disease on both sides," says the 55-year-old African-American and
resident of Hammond, La. "I've had uncles, aunts, and grandparents who've died
heart attacks and heart disease, and two of my mother's brothers died four
months apart. One had a heart attack in church, and four months later, one had
a heart attack in the post office."
When Drummond's father succumbed to heart disease...
Medication changes. New drugs can greatly affect your response to exercise. Find out if your 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. Do only what you can do without getting tired.
Safe exercises. Get the doctor's approval before you 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.
Ask your doctor about exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups. These isometric exercises involve straining muscles against other muscles or an immovable object. You may need to avoid them.
Don't exercise outdoors when it is too cold, hot, or humid. High humidity may make you 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.
Stay hydrated. Drink water even before you feel thirsty, especially on hot days.
Skip extremely hot and cold showers or sauna baths after exercise. These extreme temperatures increase the workload on the heart.
Steer clear of exercise in hilly areas. If you must walk in steep areas, slow down going uphill to avoid working too hard. Monitor your heart rate closely and talk to your doctor about what a safe heart rate is for you.
If your exercise program gets interrupted for a few days (due to illness, vacation, or bad weather, for example), ease back into the routine. Start with a reduced level of activity, and gradually increase it until you're back where you started.
What to Watch for When Exercising
Stop the exercise if you become overly fatigued or short of breath. Tell your doctor about the symptoms or schedule an appointment.
Don't exercise if you're not feeling well or have a fever. People with heart problems should wait a few days after all symptoms disappear before restarting an exercise program, unless your doctor gives other directions.
Stop activity if you develop a rapid or irregular heartbeat or have heart palpitations. Check your pulse after you've rested for 15 minutes. If it's still above 100-120 beats per minute, call the doctor.
If you feel pain while exercising, don't ignore it. Stop when have chest pain or pain anywhere else in your body. You could cause stress or damage joints.
Stop and rest if you:
Are dizzy or lightheaded
Have unexplained weight gain or swelling -- call the doctor right away
Feel pressure or pain in your chest, neck, arm, jaw, or shoulder