Exercise After a Heart Attack

There is no question that exercise is good for the heart and our overall health. Exercise is recommended for people of all ages because it has benefits way beyond just losing weight. Today, doctors frequently prescribe exercise for patients following a heart attack, but the question is: when is it safe to start exercise after a heart attack and what type of exercises can one do safely? Also, should the individual be monitored during exercise?

After a heart attack, our tissues become weak, and muscles do not contract adequately. In the past, the traditional treatment of patients following a heart attack was prolonged bed rest with minimal activity. However, over the years, researchers have recognized that one of the best ways to repair the heart is by exercise. Thus, today after a heart attack, most patients are prescribed some type of exercise program.

Because everyone recovers at a different pace, there is no one universal exercise program for everyone. The general guidelines are that one should start slowly, after about 10-14 days. Initially, the patient can start walking for 3-5 minutes to determine what they can tolerate. If breathing becomes difficult or if the patient starts to develop chest pain, they should slow down. If there are no symptoms, they can increase the duration of exercise.

Today, many patients are encouraged to exercise at cardiac rehabilitation centers where they can be monitored by a nurse. Most people can walk up to 30 minutes within four weeks following a heart attack.

Exercise has been shown to not only improve the function of the heart, but it can also lower blood pressure, decrease levels of cholesterol and blood sugar, and it helps to decrease body weight- all factors which are known to increase the risk of heart disease. Imaging studies have shown that exercise slowly increases the growth of blood vessels around the damaged part of the heart and improves oxygenation.

Cardiac rehabilitation is often undertaken 2-3 times week for about 12 weeks. The type of exercises that patients can do include walking on a treadmill, stationary bike, yoga, pilates or swimming. The majority of cardiac rehabilitation for survivors of heart attacks is done in groups, which also helps boost self-confidence.

However, doctors warn that before patients start to exercise they should be cleared by their doctors. There are a small number of patients who have unpredictable angina, and they should not exercise because it may precipitate a heart attack. But for all those who have suffered a heart attack, the best way to recover is by entering a monitored exercise program.

 

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