Exercising with heart disease

Start slow and add a little more over time. Make it feel  as if when finished feel like you could have done more easily. Begin exercising at this intensity for several sessions before making large increases in your intensity or effort required to be physically active. . Remember the whole goal is to adapt, and by doing so the body is changing how it responds. In the early recovery stage  the exercise prescription is very light. Do you know What exercise prescription is best for you?

Since exercise should be part of your everyday routine in order to make it a lifelong habit  injury avoidance is important to be aware of overuse signs and symptoms, to rest those muscles when needed.  Occasionally cardiovascular disease patients develop Peripheral Artery Disease and symptoms can present similarly to overuse. Pain should signal the body to be aware that something is going on.  Take some time to evaluate that pain, what happens with it, does it always come on at a certain time or point of the exercise or activity? How long does it take to go away? Can it be avoided while being active by another means for instance switching from walking to biking?  Make sure you communicate these findings with your healthcare practitioner as they could be signals of other health conditions related to heart disease and it’s recovery.

Some exercise and activity is better than none, so start slowly. Even a warmup is better than no exercise session here is why  warming up before strenuous activity helps your heart.

Don’t expect results overnight, but do take small steps each day. Move that blood around, push it through the muscles. Make the muscles use the oxygen in the blood  more efficiently. Exercise helps the the heart recover and stay strong.

You might not notice any big changes—especially in your weight—for a few weeks or even months. It is still good for your heart health! It is not all about weight loss. Forget the scale for a while. In fact many who initially start to exercise following hospitalization are  Sedentary at the start and will gain a couple of pounds. It is their muscles getting pumped up, holding and utilizing more blood flow. Generally the focus on how you feel.

 When not to exercise is if you are presenting with Signs and symptoms of heart problems. Exercise should be avoided if  if you are presenting with congestive heart failure, or are presently sick. When returning to exercise following illness 

Symptoms to be alert for include these.

Exercise lacking as medicine for secondary prevention

Exercise is Medicine….so why don’t some patients get the medicine they need?

Cardiac Rehabilitation remains under utilized, is this due to lack of referrals by physicians, lack of insurance so patients don’t attend, co pays and program expenses prohibitive for patients, or are patient barriers to significant to  attend? Probably all of the reasons listed.  I know when working in the industry it wasn’t unusual for patients to have co-pays of $50-$100 for one session of rehabilitation, at that price few will ever receive  the full secondary  prevention. There are limited hours and availability especially in rural areas.  Dr. Franklin and Dr. Wenger  are the movers and shakers within the cardiac rehabilitation industry, but this issues may be more of the health care reform issue of lowering costs for healthcare. Embracing telemedicine for secondary prevention and putting it not in the hands of the insurance companies, but those who have a vested interest the cardiac care departments, the cardiac rehabilitation units, and the hospitals themselves.  If the benefits of exercise came in a pill form rather than physical effort I bet it would be a megablockbuster drug.

Albany, NY – If exercise is a miracle drug, as it has been recently described, then it is a drug that is not prescribed enough for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. And if exercise is a “central and indispensable component” of a strategy in the primary prevention of coronary artery disease, then it is even more valuable in secondary prevention, according to a new viewpoint in the Journal of the American Medical Association [1].

In the article, published January 8, 2013, Dr William Boden (VA Medical Center Albany Medical College, NY), DrBarry Franklin (William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, MI), and Dr Nanette Wenger (Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA) argue that despite the known benefits of physical activity and structured exercise for patients with stable ischemic heart disease, it is neglected and “woefully underutilized.”

“The mantra here is that exercise is medicine,” Boden told heartwire. “We focus so much of our attention on modifiable risk factors, such as treating cholesterol with statins, treating blood pressure to target, reducing hemoglobin A1c levels, and getting people to stop smoking, but we don’t view physical activity in quite the same context as a modifiable risk factor. So the viewpoint is really a call to arms, to get physicians to look at physical inactivity in the same context as they do with other treatments for other risk factors.”

In addition, Boden said that if physicians focused on getting patients to exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day, five days a week, it would go a long way toward reducing the prevalence of overweight and obesity in society, which are becoming epidemic.

In the viewpoint, Boden, Franklin, and Wenger note that increasing exercise or physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness can mitigate cardiovascular disease progression, with exercise having known antiatherosclerotic, antithrombotic, anti-ischemic, antiarrhythmic, and positive psychological effects. Secondary-prevention programs that utilize physical activity with optimal medical therapy have been shown to reduce total mortality by 20%, cardiac mortality by 26%, and nonfatal MI by 26% [2]. Despite the proven benefits, many patients, including women, older patients, patients with limited education, and non-English-speaking patients, are frequently not referred for clinic-based cardiac rehabilitation.

“I think there are many factors involved,” Boden told heartwire. “In some instances, physicians are reluctant to recommend exercise or structured rehab programs. There are often uncertainties about whether such costs will be reimbursed by healthcare plans. Cardiologists often see patients for subspecialty referral care, and they view exercise to be more the realm of the internist or the primary-care physician. I think there are reasons why exercise might fall into the category of a ‘missed handoff.’ ”

Reluctance among patients, conservative docs

In addition to some patients falling through these healthcare cracks, Boden said that some patients might be overly cautious or reluctant to participate in exercise programs, as they view an acute coronary syndrome or MI as a life-altering event. Some physicians might also be overly cautious or conservative and not recommend exercise as part of the recovery process. However, low to moderate exercise, such as walking, ideally started in a structured cardiac-rehabilitation program, can promote self-confidence and reassurance so that patients can transition to unstructured and unmonitored programs outside the clinic, he said.

“We also know that angina is exercise-induced and related to physical exertion, so there might be a fear of undertaking additional exercise because of concerns that it might provoke or exacerbate angina or worsen coronary disease, yet most of the data would support the opposite,” said Boden. “And one of the things we don’t preach enough in training our residents and fellows and younger physicians is the prophylactic role of short-acting nitrates before the activity. This can actually be a prophylactic measure to prevent or forestall angina during exercise.”

Boden said that most physicians regard short-acting nitrates as a treatment for angina and not as a preemptive strategy. “If physicians were aware of this, they might be inclined to better prepare patients for how to manage and live with their ischemic heart disease.”

Reducing the risk for a second heart attack

Many patients come through their heart procedures and feel they are cured. Unfortunately for most, heart disease is a chronic progressive disorder of the arteries in which deposits of cholesterol, calcium, and abnormal cells (that is, plaques) build up on the inner lining of the arteries.  Heart disease usually progressively deteriorates over time, whether due to normal bodily wear or lifestyle choices such as exercise or eating habits. This is a hard concept to grasp, and it doesn’t mean it is a death sentence either.

You can do everything right and still have further heart issues.

When patients struggle with this, I point out doing everything right may be why they survived, as approximately 50% of people do not survive their first heart attack.   It is so important for each person to know their body’s signs and symptoms and not ignore them. We don’t really know what makes coronary artery disease aggressive, there seems to be several factors. These factors include inflammation, c- reactive proteins, genetics, lifestyle to name a few.

Some patients will have multiple issues for years requiring frequent interventions and then be fine for many years before having another issue. On average coronary artery bypass  grafts  10 years out will be 50% blocked. Some patients will go 20-30 years before needing another intervention, yet others may not even go a week or month before having symptoms. Thirty percent of open heart surgery patients will continue to have angina symptoms after surgery. The drug eluding stents have  much lower rates of re-stenosis than the bare metal stents which average 25-30% re-stenosis rates, but in both cases the vessels often continue to develop blockages in other locations in the artery. If the bare metal stents are going to re-stenos the usually do so in the first 3-6 months.  It is vital to stay on the platelet inhibitors – Plavix (clopidogrel) as prescribed to prevent complications. Frequently second heart attack occur when patients stop taking their platelet inhibitor medication.


Try to adhere to lifestyle changes that will reduce your long-term risk after another heart attack. These  are known  risk factor reduction measures and they include achieving and maintaining an optimal weight, beginning a heart-friendly diet, ending tobacco use, achieving excellent control of diabetes and high blood pressure, and adhering to regular exercise. Lifestyle changes are much more challenging to start and adhere to.  If it were only as easy taking a pill. Keep your risk factors in the best control possible. Try to get blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol numbers to national guidelines. Exercise regularly. Eat a rainbow of color in fresh fruits and vegetables each day. Don’t let stress effect your health, manage your stress as best as possible, consider counseling.  

Listen to your body are symptoms creeping up on you?

Be on the lookout for new symptoms, for changes in energy patterns, note if you are becoming less active due to fatigue. I believe many can stave off a second heart attack if they are very tuned in to their bodies signals. Keep a diary or log of your symptoms, look or patterns especially increasing fatigue, increasing shortness of breath, increased use of nitroglycerin,  episodes of sudden weakness or profuse sweating. If you note a pattern don’t wait, contact your healthcare practitioner to discuss. They key is to prevent any further loss of heart tissue by preventing another heart attack. If you think you may be having another heart attack follow the emergency steps listed below:

  • Call 911 and describe what symptoms you’re feeling and where you are located.

  • Chew an aspirin (325 mg) at the first sign of an attack. Aspirin makes blood platelets less likely to stick to each other, assisting blood flow and reducing clots. Chewing the aspirin gets it into your blood stream much faster than if you drink it down with water.