Lynn Swassing was just 48 years old, the mother of two sons in high school
and one daughter in college, when she had a heart attack in 1987. She
underwent quadruple bypass surgery and was hospitalized for nearly six
Every single day, at some point, the hospital had an exercise specialist at
the foot of my bed, she recalls. They told me, if you don't get active, you
won't make it.
I had my first heart attack 26 years ago, when I was 52. I was very active
then, sometimes jogging and often walking long distances. But I was also on the
congressional staff in Washington, and the day leading up to the attack was
even more hectic than usual. My boss was introducing major legislation, and I
had crafted an important floor speech. I didn’t have time for regular meals and
ate a huge cheeseburger for dinner, then smoked three or four cigarettes.
It happened about 3 in the morning...
No way,was Swassing's first thought. The full-time mom had never been on a
treadmill in her life, and she figured the gardening and housework she did at
her four-story Omaha home were enough of a workout.
But she gave it a try. After just 10 minutes on the exercise bike, she was
ready to quit. For good. They want me to do this for the rest of my life? Are
they kidding? she reports thinking. But I kept at it, and after two weeks I
felt like a new person.
Since then, Swassing has started every morning with a four-mile walk, and
twice a week she goes to the cardiac-rehab center to ride a bike, use a rowing
machine, or lift weights.
Regular exercise is vital for keeping your heart healthy -- even for people
who have had a heart attack. People who participate in exercise-based cardiac
rehabilitation programs have a 25% reduction in mortality, says Mark Williams,
MD, professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Creighton University
School of Medicine. (A word to the wise: If you have heart disease, do not start any
exercise program without first
checking with your doctor.)
The No. 1 cardiovascular exercise for people with heart problems: walking.
If there's one single thing a heart patient should do long term, it's a brisk
walk three to five days a week, says Philip Ades, MD, director of cardiac
rehabilitation at the University of Vermont School of Medicine.
Weight training also has
significant benefits for people with heart disease. Resistance training not
only enhances the benefits of aerobic fitness, but it appears
to provide the added benefit of increased functional capacity and independence,
If it hadn't been for exercise rehabilitation, I don't think I would have
lived this long, Swassing, now 68, declares. It's done me a world of good, and
I'll do it for the rest of my life.