Exercise can help everyone stay healthy and feel their best. For people heart disease, increasing physical activity is one of the most important things you can do. In addition to strengthening the heart and other muscles, exercise can help you control cholesterol and blood pressure, promote a healthy weight, improve your mood, and prevent serious complications such as diabetes and osteoporosis from developing.
What does it involve?
Any amount of exercise is more beneficial than no exercise at all. It is never too late to start being more active. Regular exercise does not necessarily mean going to the gym or playing sports. Nearly any physical activity that gets you up and moving can provide significant benefits to those with heart disease.
Always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen. If you have physical challenges, consider consulting with a physical therapist to develop a customized exercise plan. There are exercises and physical activities appropriate for any level of ability.
Small lifestyle changes such as taking the stairs, parking further from the door, and taking walks during work breaks can increase the amount of exercise you get.
It is important to choose a type of physical activity you will enjoy and can do regularly. Be creative. Walking a pet, gardening, and pushing children in swings are all activities that get you up and moving. Consider joining a dance class, spin class, or yoga class to keep you motivated and incorporate social aspects. If you enjoy playing a sport, hiking, or exercising at a gym, make sure to do these activities at least twice a week. Aerobic exercise can take many forms. Walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary or recumbent bike, climbing stairs, or swimming can all provide effective exercise. Resistance training such as lifting weights can be done seated, and it can involve as light a weight as you are comfortable lifting. Even small amounts of weight or resistance – for instance, lifting your arms or legs repeatedly against gravity – provide benefits.
Whatever type of physical activity you choose, follow these general safety guidelines. Always begin your exercise session with a gradual warm-up and take the time to cool down afterward. Warming up and cooling down will help prevent sore or pulled muscles. Stay hydrated with plenty of cool liquids, choosing beverages without caffeine. Exercise should be somewhat challenging, but never a struggle. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or irregular heartbeat, stop your activity and rest.
It is important not to become discouraged early on when beginning a regimen of physical activity. At first, try to exercise for 10 minutes each day. As you become accustomed to the activity, exercise for longer periods every day. Gradually work toward getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Focus on finding ways of staying active that are safe, enjoyable and easy to do regularly. If you experience new or worse heart disease symptoms or side effects from medications, adjust your activity program to keep it safe and rewarding.
Exercise can improve the condition of your cardiovascular system, lower the risk for serious complications, and improve your weight and mood.
Studies show that exercise lowers the risk for stroke and myocardial infarction in people with heart disease. Exercise can lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce heart disease symptoms. Exercise can help people lose weight, even without changing their diet.
Heart disease symptoms and medication side effects can make it difficult to feel motivated to start or continue a routine of physical activity.
If you exercise too hard, you may feel sore for a day or two afterward. Soreness is a sign that you should take it a little easier next time. If one type of exercise does not work for you, consider trying another.
For answers to frequently asked questions about exercise during pregnancy, visit the experts at MothertoBaby.org.
American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults – American Heart Association
Being active when you have heart disease – MedlinePlus