How to Exercise Safely After a Heart Attack

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Eating healthy and exercising regularly are important for heart health. But starting an exercise routine after a heart attack or other heart event can be intimidating. Ivan Anderson, M.D., a cardiologist with Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health, explains how heart patients can get started, safely.

Returning to exercise or starting a new fitness routine following a heart attack or other heart event can be intimidating and even a bit scary, but it’s necessary for good health. We asked Ivan Anderson, M.D., a cardiologist with Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health, how heart patients can get started.

Why is it important to exercise after a heart event?

Getting into a regular exercise routine after a heart event or stroke is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it can prevent a second event.

Additionally, bed rest and inactivity after a heart event can make you feel more tired and weak. Regular exercise gives you more energy, strengthens your muscles and works your heart more efficiently.

As with anything, it’s best to check with your care provider to make sure you are healthy enough to start exercising. Talk with them about what exercises to start with and what to avoid.

 

What kinds of exercise are best for heart patients? Are there any restrictions?

Walking is a fantastic exercise for people who have suffered a heart event. Walking is great for the cardiovascular system and easy on the joints, which means people of all fitness levels can start and work their way up as they get more comfortable. Again, you’ll want to check with your doctor on their specific recommendations for you.

But there are some general DOs and DON’Ts for heart patients:

  • Start slowly and work to increase the length and intensity of your workout.
  • Find exercises you enjoy doing! Forcing yourself to do exercises you hate won’t help you establish a routine.
  • Try to find a regular exercise buddy to keep you consistent.
  • Warm up and cool-down every time you exercise.
  • DON’T exercise if you feel super tired. It can wait until you feel more energized.
  • DON’T exercise in extreme heat or cold.
  • DON’T try exercise routines that include big, sudden bursts of energy, such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

How can you make sure you’re not overdoing it?

After a heart event, your energy level can change from day to day. Pay attention to how you’re feeling each day and keep your exercise expectations realistic as you get into your routine. If you’re out walking and start to feel too out of breath, slow down a little bit. If you’re feeling extra tired one day, give yourself a rest and get back to your routine as soon as you feel better.

If you have excessive shortness of breath, any discomfort in your chest, palpitations that don’t go away or increasing fatigue, stop exercising and call your doctor right away.

How many times per week do heart patients need to exercise? And for how long?

Exercise should be done regularly to really see all the benefits; national guidelines suggest about 20 to 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

Ask your doctor what frequency to aim for and check in with them when you feel you’re ready to step things up.

Want to learn more about recovering from a heart event? Check out Renown’s new Heart Healthy Program online

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