How much exercise can (and should) you do if you have a heart condition

It’s common that as you get older your exercise output declines. You might be finding other activities to take up your time or you could be looking for excuses to avoid the gym or that early morning walk. You could even have a health condition that prevents you from being more active. However, regular physical activity is beneficial for maintaining your health in a multitude of ways.

What if you have a heart condition though? You could be at risk of serious injury or worse if the proper steps and precautions aren’t taken.

According to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, there is evidence exercise is beneficial for the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Yet, more than half of adult Australians, including those with cardiovascular disease, don’t get enough regular physical activity to counter the effects of cardiovascular disease.

How much exercise should you be doing if you have a heart condition?

The Heart Foundation recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week for health benefits.

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You can get that by simply walking around your favourite park or local area.

Moderate intensity activities are those that make you breathe harder, but you can still talk while you’re doing the activity (e.g. brisk walking, dancing, golf, household chores like vacuuming). If you huff and puff and you can’t talk easily then the activity might be a vigorous intensity activity.

It’s common for those who have a heart condition to feel nervous about engaging in physical activity again, so there are a few tips you can use to gradually get back into it:

  1. Pace yourself. Don’t try and do too much too soon. You need to allow your body time to rest between workouts
  2. If it’s too cold, hot or humid don’t exercise outdoors. Extreme temperatures can affect your circulation, making breathing difficult, which can cause chest pain. High humidity can make you tired more quickly. The better option would be to do an indoor activity like walking around the shopping centre or getting on a stationary bike at the gym
  3. Ensure you are hydrated. Be sure you are drinking water before the thirst hits, especially if it is a warm day
  4. Avoid extremely hot or cold showers and skip the sauna baths after exercise
  5. Don’t exercise where it’s hilly. If walking up steep hills is unavoidable, be sure to monitor your heart rate, and talk to your health care professional about what a safe heart rate is for you.

The long- and short-term health benefits of exercise are extensive, and include: a lessening of breathlessness associated with heart failure and stroke, a reduction in recurrent angina symptoms, improved walking mobility among stroke survivors, and general improved quality of life.

Have you had heart surgery or a heart condition where you’ve had to adjust your exercise program? What exercise do you to to keep your heart healthy?