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Exercising After A Heart Attack: Yay Or Nay?

Written by Reshma Pathare on Fri, 09 December 2022 — Fact checked by Dr. Sintayehu Abebe

Key Highlights

  • You can continue to live a long, healthy, happy and fulfilling life for many years to come by keeping a check on hypertension.
  • Including activities and exercises in moderation that lower blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes etc.  is the best way forward.
  • Follow the FITT principle to manage your exercise routine to progress gradually towards your fitness goals and get best outcomes.
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 “A heart attack is a serious event, but most patients can return to a good quality of life afterward,” Dr. Reed of Cleveland Clinic says. “It may take a few weeks for you to feel like yourself again, though.”

The first thing to do after you survive a heart attack is to congratulate yourself and feel gratitude for having been given a second chance, a new lease of life.

It is now time to have a look back and ask pertinent questions about where you went wrong! Was it your eating habits, was it your sedentary life, was it your lifestyle, was it smoking, consuming alcohol, stressing et al.?

When you find honest answers to these it is time to get into action, both literally and figuratively. At first, you need to rest it out till your doctor says it's ok to get back to routine, albeit slowly.

You may be asked to join a Cardiac Rehabilitation program where your heart health is monitored closely and constantly through weight management, nutrition, exercise and risk reduction. You need to religiously stick to your medicine schedule and doctor follow-ups without fail.

While you may feel overwhelmed and worried and may not be able to accept this could have happened to you, acceptance is actually the first step to recovery. Because from this point onward you need to start working on yourself and make informed choices to get yourself going again.

James Joseph ‘Gene’ Tunney, an American professional boxer aptly said, “Exercise should be regarded as a tribute to the heart”.

Exercise after a heart attack may be a good place to start the process of rebuilding yourself. Start with simple home-based aerobic and cardio exercises, after consulting your doctor.

Cardio exercises for the heart

Ease yourself into an exercise routine to prevent future problems and to strengthen your heart. Whether you opt for cardio exercises at home or at a gym, add a few minutes every day and gradually build a comfortable 30-minute routine.  

1. Walking

It is the simplest form of exercise and easy to do without overstraining. It is the best way to warm up. You can start small, like walking up to the main gate, picking up your mail initially and then taking a walk with friends and family in the park close to your place.

2. Jogging/Running

Like walking, you can gradually work your way up when jogging or running. Taking it slow is the key and ensuring you do it consistently and at a pace that does not tire you out.

Initially, you can aim for a 10-minute run/jog and build it up to 30 minutes a day ensuring you do not feel strained.

Jogging or running

At no point should you stress your heart, because you may risk another heart attack with too much aerobics.

3. Swimming

Swimming is one of the best aerobic exercises that can easily be incorporated into your health regimen after you have had a heart attack or have been diagnosed with a heart condition.

While other exercises may heat up your system, which may not be conducive for your heart health, swimming is the ideal activity to work out and yet stay cool. Remember to ease gradually into a 30-minute routine, swimming five days a week.

4. Yoga

Yoga is a gentle exercise program for healing your heart after an attack, with low-key exercises.

Besides building your muscles and aiding suppleness to your body, yoga will help your mind to de-stress, which is the best way to lower your high blood pressure.

Avoid power yoga; instead opt for yin yoga to calm both your mind and body while strengthening your heart.

5. Gardening

Gardening is the best therapeutic exercise that you can enjoy right at home. Get to gardening, mowing, weeding and trimming to get your heart back in top shape. Just be sure not to over exert and take enough breaks while at it, ensuring you do not feel dehydrated, overheated and breathless.

Following these cardiovascular or aerobic exercise plans over a period of time will decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, improve your breathing, and ensure a healthier heart.

You know that exercising, along with incorporating lifestyle changes and improving food habits is the way forward to ensure you live a happy and healthy life.

The next thing you need to understand here is to establish an exercise routine which is best suited for you and can be adapted to suit your requirement as you progress.

This is where following the FITT exercise plan can come in handy.

What is FITT?

FITT is an acronym for Frequency, Intensity, Time & Type of exercise. Once you understand the FITT principle workout plan and build your fitness regimen around it, you are surely going to witness quick results. It will ensure you achieve your fitness level fast and effectively.

What is FITT

The FITT principle provides you a guideline based on which you can review, revise and realign your fitness goals easily to suit your requirements. The idea is to allow you to focus on your recuperation journey while giving you the bandwidth to adjust your goals as you deem fit and monitor progress.

  • Frequency: Foremost, you need to establish how often you will exercise. The frequency will depend on factors like the type of workout you are opting for; Cardio or strength; your level of fitness at the time of starting the process, the goal you are setting out to achieve etc.
    • In case of cardio, more sessions of moderate exercises are recommended.
    • For strength training the recommended frequency is two to three days a week on alternate days.
  • Intensity: Intensity is the measure of how hard you work during an exercise. The intensity needs to be adjusted as you go. 
    • It may be a good idea to incorporate a mix of low, medium and high-intensity cardio exercises while keeping an eye on ensuring you are not overstraining.
    • Monitoring the intensity of strength training will depend on your goal of building muscles, endurance and stability. The parameters like the amount of weight you lift, and the number of reps and sets you do will determine the intensity.
  • Time: The next element in your exercise regimen is the duration of your exercise session. This will depend on your fitness level as well as the kind of workout you are opting for.
    • For cardio workouts at the beginner level, the recommended duration would be 15 to 20 minutes. As you build on your health and stamina it can be increased to a session of 60 minutes duration.
    • For strength training the duration of the workout would depend on the type of workout you're doing and the muscle group you are targeting in one session.
  • Type: The type of exercise you do is important to achieve your goal. The idea here is to be able to change the type of exercise to avoid injuries, boredom, plateaus and overuse.
    • For cardio you can easily switch between running, walking, cycling, dancing, swimming, and the elliptical trainer since each of these activities get your heart rate up and can help you achieve your goal.
    • Varied strength training workouts can also be opted for and may include any type of resistance training, including bands, dumbbells, machines, etc. to work your muscles. Using your bodyweight to exercise and incorporating new exercises targeting each body part is yet another way to vary the type of workouts you do.

The principle of FITT has been increasingly recognized as one of the best ways to modify and adapt your exercise program to deliver best outcomes while monitoring your progress every step of the way. Besides, it helps you keep boredom, overuse injuries and overstraining at bay while providing you a way to chart your progress within the framework.

“Heart attacks used to be a death sentence, but they’re not anymore — not if you take good care of yourself,” Dr. Cho of Cleveland Clinic says. “A heart attack doesn’t have to mean the end. It could mean a new beginning.

Conclusion

The positive effects of exercising on cardiovascular health have been proven time and again.  Now that you know gentle exercises after a heart attack is okay to do (of course upon medical consultation), you can choose the activity you like.  
  
Adding healthy lifestyle choices, a balanced and healthy diet, keeping a check on smoking, diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, stress levels and alcohol consumption will go a long way in ensuring that you are able to lead a risk free, healthy and long life even after having suffered a heart attack or after getting a diagnosis of a heart ailment. 

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Reshma Pathare

Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare has been a self-employed media professional since 1999. Starting off as a Freelance Journalist for Times of India Thane Plus, Reshma went onto write for more than 45 national and international publications including Times of India, New Woman, Femina, Indian Express, The Hindu, BBC Good Homes and many more. While her forte has been lifestyle writing, she is equally proficient in writing health articles. Her health articles have been published in Health International (Dubai), New Woman, Femina, and Mother & Baby.

Apart from being a journalist, Reshma also works as a copy-editor for self-publishing houses and academic journals.

She is an award-winning bi-lingual translator with more than 12 books published in her name.

She has been a Visiting Faculty Member for post-graduate department of mass media at MET College (Mumbai) and Welingkar WeSchool (Mumbai).

She has worked as a Consumer Marketing Insights Researcher for global organizations like CEB Iconoculture (USA) and Gartner (USA).

Consolidating her multifarious skills in the media, in 2021, Reshma launched her own boutique media agency called Talking Turkey Communications, which specializes in content writing, editing, and translation.

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