Can I still exercise with a heart condition?

A person swimming in a pool

Melissa Craig, Exercise Physiologist at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, answers common questions and provides expert tips.

Is it safe to exercise with a heart condition?

For the vast majority of people, exercise will benefit your heart. It’s best to get advice from a healthcare professional about what exercise is right for you. If you’re invited to a cardiac rehabilitation programme, this includes exercise that is safe and tailored to you. We always recommend attending this programme – you can be assessed and your heart rate, blood pressure and symptoms are monitored closely, so exercise can be progressed at a rate that is appropriate to you.

Does heart medication affect my ability to exercise?

Some medications, such as bisoprolol and atenolol (beta blockers), can affect the way your body responds to the demands of exercise. The level and type of exercise you can achieve may be affected. Some people experience very little or no effect on their ability to be active.

An exercise professional can assess your individual exercise responses and tailor your activities. Most people who attend cardiac rehabilitation can exercise with minimal problems. But you should always discuss side effects or symptoms experienced during exercise with your cardiac rehabilitation team or GP.

Could exercise set an ICD off?

This is unlikely. ICD activation settings are usually at a much higher heart rate than would be reached during a typical exercise session.

However, it is important that you and your exercise professional know your device settings, in case they are close to the heart rate that could be achieved through strenuous exercise.

Manageable goals after a heart problem

If you have a health problem, set realistic goals and build up your exercise routine gradually. Adrian Morris, Senior Exercise Physiologist at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital says: Starting an exercise routine after a heart problem can be daunting enough, without having goals that are hard to achieve or even unrealistic. Being unable to achieve these goals could then demotivate you.

Exercise goals with gradual increases in intensity will be much easier to achieve than attempting to go from zero to hero in one large step, as your body will not be able to cope easily with the sudden change in physical demands.

Top tips for exercising with a heart condition

Man drinking water whilst exercising

  • Avoid exercising outdoors when it is very cold or very hot.
  • Stay well hydrated, especially on hot days.
  • Don’t exercise if you are unwell. If your exercise programme has been interrupted for any reason, gradually ease back into it.
  • Stop exercising if you become really fatigued or severely short of breath and discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

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