It’s that time of year when many of us consider a renewed commitment to exercise and getting in shape. But if you have a heart condition, the decision to exercise might not be a matter of resolution. Instead, like many of my patients, you might be asking yourself: Is it safe for me to exercise?
Your ability to exercise depends on your diagnosis and should always be discussed with your healthcare provider. A patient with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, for example, typically has some restrictions on competitive exercise, though most habitual exercise-type activities would still be encouraged.
Patients with atrial fibrillation (afib), a heart arrhythmia, typically have no restrictions. Many of my afib patients ask, “Will exercise make my condition worse?” I tell them, “No, there is more and more data that shows it can actually make it better.”
For many heart patients, exercise far outweighs the risk. For those with heart failure, data shows that exercise is beneficial. A recent clinical trial of moderate intensity exercise training in patients with chronic heart failure revealed an improvement in functional capacity as well as a significant improvement in quality of life.
If your healthcare provider gives you the go-ahead to exercise, he or she may recommend a heart rate monitor to keep your heart rate within an appropriate range for your diagnosis. This can be determined through a cardiopulmonary exercise test, which can provide information such as your maximum heart rate during exercise and your personal capacity for exercise. An individualized exercise prescription can be prepared based on your performance results on such a test.
During exercise, monitor your target heart rate zone with your healthcare provider’s guidance. Your provider may even recommend a supervised exercise program such as cardiac rehabilitation to help you establish a safe and effective exercise regimen.
You should also check with your doctor about specific types of acceptable exercise. Exercise that causes muscle strain, such as pushups and sit-ups, might need to be avoided, primarily for your comfort. Also, most patients who have undergone heart surgery are advised not to lift anything that weighs more than 10 pounds for a period of time after surgery. Make sure that lifting and pushing heavy objects, and household chores such as raking, shoveling or strenuous housework, aren’t off-limits.
Stop and rest if you:
- Feel weak, dizzy or light-headed
- Have unexplained weight gain or swelling
- Feel pressure or pain in your chest, neck, arm, jaw or shoulder
Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider if any of these symptoms persist.
Take the next step:
- Read more about how exercise can benefit your heart.
Dr. Sara Saberi is a member of the U-M Frankel CVC Inherited Cardiomyopathy Program. Her research work focuses on exercise training and validating stress testing modalities in patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. She is also interested in valvular heart disease in this and other patient populations.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.