Balanced, individualized, supervised exercise program can speed up recovery from heart surgery

Coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart surgery and heart attack are all scary words—so scary that they frighten people away from exercising for fear of further damaging the heart. But research shows that a balanced, individualized, supervised exercise program can actually speed recovery from heart surgery and heart attack, and improve symptoms of heart failure and heart disease. The important words here are balanced, individualized and supervised, because not all exercise is equally good for a distressed heart, and some may actually be harmful.

The American Heart Association lists the belief that exercise should be avoided after heart attack as one of the top 10 myths about heart disease. Instead, the American Heart Association advises people of all ages with coronary artery disease, angina, heart failure, or those who have had a heart attack or heart surgery to join a cardiac rehabilitation or cardiac exercise program.

Most cardiac programs include stretching exercises and aerobic activities—that is, activities such as walking, bicycling, swimming and dancing that work large groups of muscles. These aerobic exercises improve circulation, lower blood pressure and reduce the chance of developing blood clots. They also relieve stress, improve mood and help in weight management.

Some authorities recommend that people with heart disease exercise for 30 minutes at least five days a week, but this level of exercise may not be suitable for everyone. This is where we can help. We will work with your cardiologist to develop an exercise program that is balanced and paced to match your heart condition and level of health and fitness. Age is no barrier. Even people in their 80s and 90s can benefit from exercise.

Just as important, we will educate you about activities to avoid, such as some strengthening exercises (i.e., isometric actions and exercises where you hold your breath) and heavy lifting (no shoveling snow!). We will teach you to monitor yourself and watch for warning signs that you are pushing yourself too hard. As your condition and medications change, we will adjust your program.

Exercising with heart disease should not be scary. Let us develop a safe, graduated program to keep you and your blood moving.