The Post-Quadruple-Bypass Workout

The top way for heart patients to heal faster? Just get moving.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 02, 2007
2 min read

Lynn Swassing was just 48 years old, the mother of two sons in high schooland one daughter in college, when she had a heart attack in 1987. Sheunderwent quadruple bypass surgery and was hospitalized for nearly sixweeks.

Every single day, at some point, the hospital had an exercise specialist atthe foot of my bed, she recalls. They told me, if you don't get active, youwon't make it.

No way,was Swassing's first thought. The full-time mom had never been on atreadmill in her life, and she figured the gardening and housework she did ather four-story Omaha home were enough of a workout.

But she gave it a try. After just 10 minutes on the exercise bike, she wasready to quit. For good. They want me to do this for the rest of my life? Arethey kidding? she reports thinking. But I kept at it, and after two weeks Ifelt like a new person.

Since then, Swassing has started every morning with a four-mile walk, andtwice a week she goes to the cardiac-rehab center to ride a bike, use a rowingmachine, or lift weights.

Regular exercise is vital for keeping your heart healthy -- even for peoplewho have had a heart attack. People who participate in exercise-based cardiacrehabilitation programs have a 25% reduction in mortality, says Mark Williams,MD, professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Creighton UniversitySchool of Medicine. (A word to the wise: If you have heart disease, do not start anyexercise program without firstchecking 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 briskwalk three to five days a week, says Philip Ades, MD, director of cardiacrehabilitation at the University of Vermont School of Medicine.

Weight training also hassignificant benefits for people with heart disease. Resistance training notonly enhances the benefits of aerobic fitness, but it appearsto provide the added benefit of increased functional capacity and independence,says Williams.

If it hadn't been for exercise rehabilitation, I don't think I would havelived this long, Swassing, now 68, declares. It's done me a world of good, andI'll do it for the rest of my life.

The Exercise: Cardio experts recommend the assisted lunge. Stand withone foot about 3 feet in front of the other. Hold onto a chair or railing forbalance. Keep your torso straight, and bend your knees and lower body towardthe floor. Do not let your front knee bend over your toe. Push back throughyour front heel to come back up. Repeat 8-10 times, then switch legs. Startingout, 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 ofyour body, you're also building on what cardiovascular exercise does for yourheart.


Originally published in the November/December 2007 issue of WebMD theMagazine.