Exercising after Heart Attack, Know the Rehabilitation Steps

Dr Vijay Janagama, Director, New Initiatives, SuVitas Holistic Healthcare

Cardiovascular Diseases claimed more than 17.5 million cases of heart attack worldwide, of which at least a third of them previously had heart attacks. Surviving a major cardiac event is an extremely fortunate thing. However, most survivors go to a state of complete rest with no or minimal exercises soon after leaving the hospital. It is true that one must avoid excessive physical exertion after a heart attack. However, appropriate exercises along with medication and therapies including occupational and physical therapy will help in improving blood circulation and overall well-being. Thus cardiac rehabilitation is a highly recommended program to eliminate the risk of a second cardiac event, or post-operative complications in a survivor and improve the overall emotional well-being of an individual.

Cardiac rehabilitation is a multidisciplinary recovery program designed to strengthen the heart, body and mind of people who recovered from cardiac events.  With the intent to inculcate heart-healthy habits in an individual, a variety of physical activities are taught along with providing necessary one-on-one support and awareness to relieve stress and enhance mental health. Each patient has a different pace of recovery. In general, cardiac rehabilitation is offered for a period of 12 weeks, ideally in an inpatient setting. However, depending on the individual condition, the program could run for a longer duration.

Studies observe people who undergo cardiac rehabilitation have 30% less repeat cardiac events. They were also found to be healthier and could walk longer distances. Supervised exercise programmes can reduce blood pressure, stress levels, body weight; at the same time improve balance and flexibility.

Safely Getting Back to Physical Activities

Although individual conditions decide the ideal time by when one could return to or start exercising after a heart attack, in general, you should be able to start in 6 weeks. Individuals who don’t participate in cardiac rehabilitation will need to take the doctor’s consent before starting to exercise. One could slowly begin by doing gentle exercises like walking. For the first week, you could walk for 5 minutes at a time. The momentum could be gradually built and extended to 10 minutes by next week and 30 minutes after 6 weeks. This again depends on how active you were previously. Hence, consulting a doctor in choosing the right type of physical activity is of paramount importance.

Listed below are few other safety tips that could be followed for safely resuming to or newly getting into active lifestyles,

1. Start walking slowly, gradually increase speed and lower the pace before stopping completely.

2. Don’t exert yourself at the end of the day when you are already worn out. The best time to exercise is early in the day or when you feel fresh and relaxed. Make sure you are hydrated before and during the activity. Never do any physical activity soon after a bath or taking meals.

3. Gradually, minimize sitting time and aim to do moderate-intensity activities for at least 40 minutes, 4 days a week.

4. To feel more motivated and comfortable, you could consider exercising with a personal trainer or a close family member.

5. Monitor your progress and continuously update the doctor on the achieved and newly planned goals.

6. Climb stairs slowly until you are able to do it at the same pace as normal walking.

7. As your fitness and confidence increase over the weeks, you can slowly move from mild to moderate intensity activities like cycling, swimming or even lightweight training.

8. Carry a mobile phone with you throughout so that any red flags can be immediately alerted to dear ones. The warning signs to look out for are tightness in the chest, palpitation, dizziness or shortness of breath. In case you experience any of these symptoms during any physical activity, stop and seek medical attention on an urgent basis.

Here are 10 Cardiac Rehabilitation exercises you can do at home:

1. Elbow Bends

2. Bent Arm Raises

3. Side Elbow Extensions

4. Straight Arm Raises

5. Arm Circles

6. Marching at a place

7. Waist Bends

8. Waist Twists

9. Knee Touches

10. Knee Bends

 Structured exercises, monitored and supervised by a medical team and custom-tailored to the individual patient’s condition are most helpful in reducing the risk of a repeat cardiac event.

Cardiac rehabilitation, when received in an inpatient rehabilitation facility, will yield not just physical benefits, but also overall well-being. Being accompanied by family members, these programmes inculcate positive lifestyles for the whole family.

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