Exercise And Heart Failure – Some Simple Tips

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As someone who deals with heart failure on a daily basis, I thought I would share some simple tips on exercise in heart failure.

After a diagnosis of heart failure, many people are very anxious and often wonder if they can get back to exercising.

Heart failure is associated with physical symptoms that can reduce the quality of life. However, physical activity has been linked to better heart health.

In the past, heart failure patients were asked to get rest and avoid physical activities. With advancing research, it is now clear that moderate physical activity is safe for majority of patients with heart failure.

Exercising reduces the risk of death or hospitalization and markedly improves the quality of life.

Due to heart failure, people experience discomfort while exercising due to breathlessness and tiredness. This is because, the capacity for exercising depends on the heart’s ability to pump more blood to the muscles and the ability of these muscles to utilize oxygen from the blood.

During heart failure, the heart is incapable of meeting the additional demands of the tissues that occurs during exercise. Thus, exercise intolerance is inevitably linked with heart failure.

Exercise intolerance can be measured in different individuals with the help of interviews, surveys, timed walking tests and graded exercise treadmill and bicycle exercise tests.

Tackling Exercise Intolerance In Heart Failure

Cardiac rehabilitation is a program in hospitals designed to assist individuals with heart conditions.

The components of cardiac rehabilitation include exercise training, education on healthy living and counselling to reduce stress.

Benefits Of Exercise In Heart Failure Patients

  1. Improved blood pressure
  2. Ability to do more physical activity
  3. Improved mood
  4. Improved quality of life
  5. Improved symptoms
  6. Improved cholesterol levels
  7. Better circulation
  8. Reduced hospitalization

Always Consult Your Doctor Before Starting

It is always better to consult your doctor before initiating an exercise plan.

Your doctor can help to create an exercise program according to your level of fitness and heart condition.

Some important things that must be discussed with your doctor are how long can exercises be done, how frequently can they be done, what kind of exercises are safe, what type of exercises are not safe and whether it is safe to exercise alone.

Tips For Exercise In Heart Failure

Heart failure patients can effectively follow these simple tips during exercise to avoid complications.

  • Avoid exercise right after a meal – It is essential to wait at least 90 minutes after having a meal before initiating exercise
  • Avoid slopes – It is better to walk on level ground and avoid hilly areas.
  • Avoid physical activity in certain conditions – Its best to avoid outdoor activities when it is colder than 40 degrees or warmer than 80 degrees.
  • Choose low-impact workouts – Activities such as walking and cycling are easy on the joints. Therefore, it is essential to consider low-intensity and longer duration workouts like walking, jogging, trekking, or swimming than high-intensity workouts like jumping, running, and weight-lifting.
  • Warm-up/ cool-down – It is important to start with a warm-up session and finish with a cool-down session to prevent muscle injuries as well as sudden overload of the heart.
  • Take enough breaks – Make sure to get sufficient rest after each session of your workout.

When To Stop The Workout Session?

It is essential to pay attention to certain symptoms during exercise. If you notice any of these symptoms, the workout session must be stopped immediately, and sufficient rest should be taken.

Some of the signs and symptoms to watch out for are:

  1. Chest pain
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Irregular heartbeat or pulse
  4. Nausea
  5. Dizziness

When you have any of these symptoms during exercise, it is essential to record them and let your doctor know about them.

Types Of Exercises Heart Failure Patients Can Do

To obtain complete fitness, different types of exercises can be done. In general, people may benefit from three main types of exercises – cardiovascular/aerobic, flexibility and strength training.

Cardiovascular/aerobic (cardio)

These exercises improve blood circulation and thus lower the blood pressure and heart rate. They also improve oxygen consumption. This includes walking, slow jogging, skipping, slow cycling etc.

How much can you do?

Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week has shown to have many benefits.

Flexibility (stretching)

These include exercises like stretching, tai chi and yoga.

They improve the musculoskeletal health and enable you to stay flexible, and prevent joint pain and other muscular problems. However, these exercises do not directly contribute to heart health.

How much can you do?

These exercises can be included in your everyday routine before and after other activities.

Strength training (resistance training)

These include working out with free weights such as dumbbells and hand weights.

They also include exercises such as push-ups and squats. They improve the strength and tone of muscles and help muscles work together better. These exercises can make it easier to do your day-to-day activities.

However, it is advised not to use weights heavier than 10 kilos.

How much can you do?

Two nonconsecutive days per week of strength training is recommended.

When To Call Your Doctor

One must understand not to wait for symptoms to get worse and seek medical treatment as soon as possible if symptoms arise.

It is recommended to call your health care provider when even one of these symptoms occur –

  1. Increased swelling in feet, legs and abdomen
  2. Difficulty in breathing, especially at rest
  3. Unexplained change in weight
  4. A heart rate over 120 beats per minute
  5. Vomiting
  6. Excess sweating
  7. Lightheadedness and dizziness
  8. Noticeable irregular heartbeat
  9. Reduced urine output or dark urine

Closing Remarks

People with heart failure are at no risk while exercising and exercising has many benefits to offer, rest assured.

Exercise in heart failure is an important part of the treatment regime and makes patients live longer. It also reduces hospital admissions.

However, it is essential to understand that too much of anything will lead to adverse events and is best in moderation!

Dr Vivek Baliga B
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