Research has shown that regular physical activity can speed recovery from a heart attack.
How does exercise help heart disease?
- lowers blood pressure, reducing strain on the heart
- increases good HDL cholesterolthat transports fat away from the arteries and back to the liver for processing
- may reduce levels of bad LDL cholesterol that can form fatty deposits in the arteries and contribute to heart disease
- improves circulation by preventing blood clotsthat can lead to heart attack and stroke
- increases fat loss
- helps weight-loss
- Builds muscle mass.
It also reduces stress by releasing feel-good hormones called endorphins. Stress and anxiety can slow recovery from a heart attack.
How much exercise is enough?
You should aim to exercise for 30 minutes on five days out of seven, if not daily.
You can split the recommended 30 minutes into manageable chunks – for example a ten minute walk to and from the bus stop to your place of work, plus a five minute walk to the shops and back.
What’s best for the heart?
The best exercise for your heart is aerobic activity. That means anything that works large groups of muscles such as your legs, arms and shoulders.
Swimming, brisk walking, running, cycling, dancing and even digging your garden are all types of aerobic activity.
How do I know if it’s working?
For exercise to be effective it needs to raise your heart beat. While for the general population this is a good thing, people with heart problems need to take care not to put the heart under too much pressure.
To minimise any strain on your heart, start slowly, build up to a maximum pace and then slow down before the end of the session.
Always warm up at the start of a session, and take time to cool down at the end with some simple stretches.
Are there any risks?
People with heart problems should always check with their doctor or heart specialist before starting any exercise program.
Most people can take regular exercise at a level that benefits them. To start with this may mean a daily five-minute walk and then building it up by five minutes each week.
Your doctor can send you for an ECG (electrocardiogram) exercise test on a running machine or exercise bike to find out how much activity is safe for you to do.
- Heart attack or heart surgery:if you’ve recently had heart surgery, you may be able to take part in a cardiac rehabilitation program that will set a safe level for exercise.
- Chest pains (angina):try to exercise regularly, but take care your chosen activity doesn’t cause chest pains or make you too out of breath. Walking is a good activity. Start slowly, and only increase the distance and speed when you can comfortably manage your existing walk. Don’t exercise after a heavy meal or in cold weather. Take your spray or tablets with you when you exercise.
- Heart failure (the heart doesn’t pump as well as it should):your doctor may tell you to limit activity if exercise gives you palpitations or you have other heart conditions such as a narrowed heart valve. Start slowly and only increase when you feel comfortable at your existing level. Stop if ankle swelling and breathlessness are more than usual.
- High blood pressure:try to exercise regularly, but avoid intense exercise such as competitive sport and heavy weightlifting if your blood pressure is not well controlled. Vigorous activities like these can cause a sudden sharp increase in your blood pressure that could be dangerous.
Are there things I should avoid?
The British Heart Foundation says you should avoid the following types of exercise if you have a heart condition.
- Intense activities such as weights, press-ups and heavy lifting or digging.
- Any exercise that causes chest pains or involves standing up quickly from the floor.