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.
In the battle against atherosclerosis, the stakes remain high. Scientists
have made exciting medical advances, but the disease persists as a leading
cause of illness and death in the United States. This year alone,
atherosclerosis will contribute to about 1.2 million heart attacks among
“While we have very good therapies and tests to identify the disease and
predict the risk, none of them is perfect,” says Stephen Nicholls, MBBS
(bachelor of medicine/surgery), PhD, clinical director...
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.
Exercise for Your Heart: Assisted Lunge
The Exercise: Cardio experts recommend the assisted lunge. Stand with
one foot about 3 feet in front of the other. Hold onto a chair or railing for
balance. Keep your torso straight, and bend your knees and lower body toward
the floor. Do not let your front knee bend over your toe. Push back through
your front heel to come back up. Repeat 8-10 times, then switch legs. Starting
out, heart patients should do just one set, twice a week.
The Benefit: Lunges, basic exercises you can do almost anywhere,
strengthen many of the muscles in your legs. By boosting the major muscles of
your body, you're also building on what cardiovascular exercise does for your
Originally published in the November/December 2007 issue of WebMD the
SOURCES: Lynn Swassing, heart disease patient, Omaha, Neb. Mark Williams,
MD, professor of medicine, division of cardiology, Creighton University School
of Medicine, Omaha, Neb. Philip Ades, MD, director of cardiac rehabilitation,
University of Vermont School of Medicine, Burlington, Vt. American Heart