How to Exercise Safely After a Heart Attack

Get moving safely with tips from the American Heart Association
By Ben Wobker, PT, MSPT, CSCS, SFMAc
How to Exercise Safely After a Heart Attack

Every year, approximately 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack, and heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. Top risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Lifestyle choices such as poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive use of alcohol also increase your chance for heart disease.

While heart attacks are frightening and dangerous, you can give your heart a strong future with a cardiac rehabilitation program. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), “Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program designed to improve your cardiovascular health if you have experienced heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, or heart surgery.” Your cardiac rehab program includes: 

  • Exercise counseling and training to get your heart pumping and your entire cardio system working. In rehab, you’ll learn how to move your body in health-healthy ways.
  • Education on how to manage your risk factors. These might include quitting smoking or making healthier nutrition choices.
  • Counseling to lower stress. Stress harms your heart, so therapy helps you identify and manage the everyday stress in your life.

“The most important bit of information for anyone returning to activity and exercise following a cardiac event, including myocardial infarction, would be to enroll and complete a formal cardiac rehabilitation program,” says Rich Severin PT, DPT, PhD(c), CCS, Owner, PTReviewer LLC. “The evidence is overwhelmingly strong that cardiac rehabilitation reduces mortality, morbidity, and disability in individuals with cardiac disease.” 

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How to ‘Ease Back’ into Exercise

Returning to physical fitness after a heart attack is scary, even for top athletes, says Dr. Melissa Tracy, associate professor of cardiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Yet it’s exercising that has the potential to save your life after a heart attack, according to a Swedish study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association

Dr. Tracy provides helpful tips to ease the transition back into physical activity. Some of these include:

  • Start slow. Your heart is a muscle that works your entire body. Like any other muscle, it needs time to heal.
  • Exercise in a stable, temperate environment. Avoid extreme heat or cold that makes your heart work harder to regulate your body temperature. 
  • Sweat less—at first. If you’re dripping with sweat at the start, that’s a sign you’re probably overdoing it. 
  • Hydrate properly. If you’re on blood pressure medications or on fluid restriction, you’ll want to monitor your fluid intake closely.
  • Watch your diet. Eat a low-fat diet, limiting your intake of red meat and alcohol—and eliminating caffeine.

On-Demand Physical Therapy Helps Your Heart Heal

As part of your cardiac rehab program, an on-demand physical therapist will work with your cardiologist to determine the best protocol for your situation. The PT will assess your ability to function within your environment, such as restrictions on lifting or reaching.  A “visual field trip” of your neighborhood terrain can determine when it’s safe for you to walk the dog or get the mail. Your PT will prescribe an effective at-home exercise program that takes into account these environmental factors.

During a home visit, your physical therapist can also check your blood pressure and ensure that you are following the best care to safely return to activity. This could include a long-term plan to return to the gym. Best of all, on-demand therapy ensures that you—or your loved ones—will keep their PT appointment and return to health sooner.

Check out Luna’s on-demand physical therapy services in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Orange County, and now Seattle!

On-demand PT ensures that you or your loved ones can return to health sooner.
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