Is there any risk in exercising with heart disease?

Exercise has lots of benefits, but there are some risks. How much or how little you should do depends on your diagnosis. If you have survived a heart attack or have had heart surgery, you should first talk to your health professional about supervised exercise in an organized cardiac rehabilitation program. This chapter will build on what you learn in cardiac rehabilitation and provide you with tools to maintain a safe and healthy exercise program. Whatever the severity of your heart disease, you should discuss exercise with your physician or health professional before beginning any program.
In addition, your physician may have prescribed medication such as beta-blockers  that limits the body’s ability to increase the heart rate. (Not all drugs affect your ability to exercise or to increase your heart rate.) When your physician prescribes any medication, discuss how exercise might affect it.

If exercise is supposed to be so good for you, why do some young athletes die suddenly of heart attacks? 

This is almost always because the young person has a different kind of heart disease, called cardiomyopathy. This problem is not due to atherosclerosis and most often has no known underlying cause. It is another cause of congestive heart failure and occurs most often in adults, preceded by many months of shortness of breath. Fortunately deaths from cardiomyopathy are relatively rare (about one in fifty of all cases of heart disease).

What can I do to make my exercise program as safe as possible? 

First andforemost, discuss exercise with your physician. This is a must if you have heart disease or known risk factors for heart disease. Check with your physician and get clearance ask what you should or should not be doing. After reading this chapter, you’ll know what questions to ask. It’s essential that you communicate to your physician that you want to become physically active.

What if I have arthritis? 

If you have arthritis, learn how to do gentle stretching and flexibility exercises or underwater aerobics, which often allows exercise without pain.

How do I design a safe exercise program? 

There are four parts to a safe exercise program: 
• warming up
• working out
• avoiding overexertion
• cooling down

Why is warming up so important? 

Prior to any stretching activity, it is preferable to warm up. The purpose of the warm-up is to raise the core body temperature and lubricate the joints. “Cold” muscles are more susceptible to injury, even in a very well conditioned individual. Furthermore, when muscles are stretched while warm, greater increases in flexibility can be achieved and maintained than if stretching is done without a prior warm-up. The warm-up need last only five minutes. It can consist of walking, riding a stationary bicycle, working out on a rowing machine, or using any other type of exercise equipment involving rhythmic movements of the large muscle groups of the body. If more convenient, a warm shower or bath may substitute as a warm-up.

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