The Heart Truth: Exercise For A Healthy Heart

October 8, 2012 By

Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States, according to Center for Disease Control (CDC). A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle is the biggest cause of heart disease. Fortunately, this is something we can change. Regular exercise can:

  • Strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve muscle tone and strength
  • Strengthen bones
  • Improve oxygen circulation in the body
  • Increase your stamina, so you can do more without being fatigued or short or breath
  • Help control your weight and aid in weight loss
  • Reduce stress, tension, anxiety and depression
  • Improve sleep
  • Make you feel more relaxed and rested

There is not a single pill in the world that can give you all these benefits. Regular exercise can help you dodge a dangerous bullet – a heart attack and potentially save your life A structured, supervised exercise program can improve your health and the quality of your life. ALWAYS check with your doctor before you start exercising, especially if you have any medical conditions and / or take prescription medications.

Do’s and Don’ts of Safe Exercise

Generally speaking, we recommend doing aerobic exercise gradually working up to 20-30 minutes, at least 3-4 times/week. The American Heart Association recommends that you work your way up to a point where you can exercise most days of the week. Call our clinic and we’ll get you started on the right exercise plan for you and help you work your way up to a safe, effective exercise program. Be sure to include a warm-up and a cool-down to your exercise routine.

  • Warm-up. This helps your body to raise it’s core temperature to “get ready” to exercise. As a result, your heart can function more effectively and muscles are more pliable and contract better. This decreases your chances of injury. When warming up, try stretching or starting out with 5-10 minutes at a lower intensity.
  • Begin your exercise. For best results, monitor your heart rate and intensity. Don’t overdo it. If you’re not sure how to monitor these factors and pace yourself, call our clinic to schedule an appointment and we will help you every step of the way.
  • Cool-down. End your exercise with 5-10 minutes of decreased intensity of exercise (like walking). It helps your body and heart recover from the workout. It also helps bring your heart rate and blood pressure back down to resting levels.

Supervision and Precautions

If you’ve experienced heart trouble or have had symptoms of heart failure, it’s CRITICAL for you to take some precautions when you exercise. In addition to getting exercise clearance from your doctor (who may want to run some tests to make sure you are a good candidate for exercise), you should exercise under the supervision of a physical therapist to maximize safety and effectiveness.

  • Remember to PACE yourself and rest when needed.
  • AVOID isometric exercises (like push-ups, sit-ups). Isometrics are generally associated with breath holding and excessive straining, also known as the Valsalva Maneuver. This can instantaneously shoot up your blood pressure! So listen to your body and let it dictate your breathing – NEVER hold your breath.
  • If it’s too cold, hot, or humid outdoors, it’s best to exercise indoors.  Extreme temperature can affect circulation and make you tired (or short of breath) fairly quickly.
  • Avoid extreme hot and cold showers, or sauna baths, especially after exercise. These extreme temperatures increase the workload on the heart.
  • Steer clear of exercise in hilly areas. If you must walk in steep areas, make sure you slow down when going uphill to avoid working too hard. Monitor your heart rate closely.
  • If your exercise program has been interrupted for more than a few days (illness, vacation or bad weather), make sure you ease back into the routine. Start with a reduced level of activity, and gradually increase it until you get back in the groove.

Word of Caution Stop exercise if you experience any of the following symptoms of overload:

  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Unexplained weight gain or swelling (call your doctor right away)
  • Pressure or pain in your chest, neck, arm, jaw or shoulder
  • Anything else that concerns you

If you continue to exercise despite these warning signs, you may be causing too much stress on your heart. If your symptoms persist, call your doctor. Your heart is critical to your long term health. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to seek the expert supervision of a physical therapist to create or modify your exercise program. This will allow your heart to function more effectively and improve the quality of your life.

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This post was written by Andrew Clary MS MPT ATC