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We are all told to exercise. Not only by our doctors, but our friends, family and co-workers also echo this same principle. Have you ever wondered why exercise is so important? More specifically, have you ever wondered why exercise is important for heart patients? Maybe your answer is yes but you fail to know where to start or how to exercise consistently. All these concerns are not only common but reasons many individuals fail to exercise consistently. In this KHC University post, we will discuss these topics as well as provide tips on how to best exercise, specifically for those with heart disease.  

Exercise and Your Heart

Exercise in general is helpful in many ways for your overall health, not only for your cardiovascular system. Lowering your risk for one disease often lowers your risk for others. For example, in one of our previous posts we discussed how diabetes can increase your risk for heart disease. Therefore, if you lower your risk of developing diabetes, you by default lower your risk of developing heart disease. By exercising to lower your risk of one disease, you lower your risk of many. 

Heart Disease Exercises

A common misconception is that exercise is a preventative measure: “If I exercise, I won’t get this disease.” but, this is not always the case. Instead, exercise works as a strategy to lower your risk. What is the difference? In essence, due to your genes, medical history and other external factors, you can still get the diseases which exercise “prevents”. That being said, your chance of getting that disease significantly lowers. To give you an idea, consistent exercise is estimated to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by 58%, high blood pressure by 19% and anxiety by 20%. These are general estimates, and you may still develop these diseases even if you exercise but it is much less likely to occur.   

Exercise also lowers your risk of other chronic conditions like heart disease, depression, high blood sugar, many types of cancers, stroke and dementia, to name a few others. But what if you already have these conditions? Not all hope is lost! Exercise plays an important role in helping you manage chronic conditions and lower your risk for increasing the severity of some diseases. Controlling chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes helps lower the event rate for a heart attack or stroke. Exercise allows you to better control these conditions and therefore reduces your risk for complications that arise from uncontrolled high blood pressure and diabetes.

Exercise Combats Obesity

Combating Obesity

Obesity is also a major health concern for our country and more specifically our region in East Tennessee. Overweight individuals commonly suffer from numerous conditions that can be directly related to the degree of their obesity. The most common conditions are hypertension, diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle. It is well agreed upon that overweight individuals suffer from more severe forms of these conditions that can ultimately lead to long term complications such as heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and peripheral arterial disease. Therefore, by exercising you not only lower your risk of developing these conditions, but in general, lower the severity rate of the condition. The severity of a disease often plays a big role into the quality and capacity at which one can live. 

How much should I exercise? 

According to the American Heart Association, adults should get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. The combination of both is best. 

Exercises for Heart Patients

The difference in moderate intensity and vigorous exercise generally refers to the level to which you raise your heart rate or the actual activity itself. For example, some can achieve their target heart rate with a recumbent bicycle whereas others may decide to jog or hike aggressively. The type of exercise you choose should be discussed with your physician to ensure that you are not only getting the cardiovascular benefits but doing so in a safe and sustainable manner.

This is an appropriate goal that most people should work towards but initially, an exercise program should be started slowly and cautiously. Starting with a leisurely walk three times a week for most people is a sufficient starting point that helps an individual gain confidence and gradually work up to the recommended frequency and duration of regular exercise. In many cases, if you start an aggressive exercise program very early on, you may become discouraged. Many times, you are not able to sustain such a rigorous regimen and often give up prematurely. A slow start will not only help you develop a lifestyle that is consistent but will support the sustainability of a long term healthy lifestyle.

Heart Patient Exercises

If you have heart disease you should always consult with your physician before beginning any type of consistent exercise. Consultation with your physician will ensure that your exercise program is not only effective, but more importantly done with a significant amount of safety. It can be dangerous to start exercising as a heart patient without consulting your doctor. There are many forms of exercise you can try, but not every form is best for everyone so finding what is best for your body, health and medical conditions is best. 

If you have talked with your physician and are not sure where to start when it comes to exercising, consider choosing something from below! 

  • Aerobic Exercise
    • Running, walking, swimming, jumping rope, biking (indoor or outdoor) 
  • Strength Training
    • Lifting weights, squats, pushups, athletic band workouts, arm rotations, leg lifts, crunches, heel raises
  • Improving Balance
    • Yoga, single leg stands, pilates, stretching
Cardiovascular Exercises

Many of these exercises you can do inside or outside. You can use your body weight or add a form of weights to make it more of a challenge but remember to start low and work your way up to higher intensity to avoid injury. If you are looking to lose weight, generally aerobic low intensity exercise is best for weight reduction. This would include walking, running or low intensity weight training as stated above. It is most effective when coupled with an appropriate diet. This will generally lead to a slow consistent weight loss in most individuals and an adaptation of a healthier lifestyle. 

Exercise Journal

Keeping an exercise journal is an important part of your exercise process, specifically if you are a heart patient. Keeping a record of your exercise program will not only help you and your physician to monitor your progress, but it will serve as a record for your progress. For example, if your goal is to walk a mile a day and initially it takes you 30 minutes and a month later your time has fallen to 15 minutes, it validates your progress. Moreover, the record will allow you to set goals and once these goals are achieved, new goals can be set and you can work toward them with confidence.

Warning Signs for Heart Patients

If you are a heart patient, make sure to look out for common signs of heart disease. In general, symptoms of chest pain, progressive shortness of breath, syncope (passing out), dizziness or failure to progress in your exercise patterns are signs that should prompt you to speak with your physician. If you start experiencing any of these symptoms, make sure to consult your physician. 

We hope this month’s KHC University post has been helpful and has given you the framework to start a conversation with your doctor to begin a healthier, exercise inclusive lifestyle. Our goal is to provide heart healthy tips that not only improve your health but encourage you to pursue healthiness. If you have any topics that you would like to read more about at KHC University, submit them below! Until next month, stay healthy and exercise well!

Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)

A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) is an invasive heart procedure where an ultrasound probe is inserted into your esophagus (food pipe). A transesophageal echocardiogram allows your cardiologist to acquire detailed pictures pertaining to the structure, function and any valvular heart disease that many be present. This procedure demonstrates your cardiac function in much greater detail than a standard transthoracic echocardiogram.

Prior to your procedure, you should not have any food or drink for 8-12 hours. In most cases, you will be able to take your home medications as scheduled. Your cardiologist / healthcare provider will advise you if there are any requirements to alter your medication schedule. Prior to your transesophageal echocardiogram, the technologist will insert an IV in your arm as a safety precaution to begin the test. This will allow sedation to be given to make you more comfortable during your procedure. During your procedure, you will be required to lie flat for approximately 30 minutes while the test is being completed. After your transesophageal echocardiogram, you will need to refrain from driving for approximately 12 hours and will need someone to accompany you home after the procedure. You can return to your normal activities the morning after your procedure.