When it comes to cardiovascular health, exercise is essential. But what if your heart is not working properly? Can you still pursue physical activity, and if so, should you prioritize certain sports over others? Here are the answers from Dr. Claude Kouakam, a cardiologist.
Regular physical activity is beneficial for both mind and body, and this applies to almost everyone, except for a few exceptions, even those experiencing heart arrhythmia are encouraged to exercise. “However, this physical activity should be closely monitored as there is no such thing as zero risk,” says Dr. Claude Kouakam, a cardiologist specializing in the management of heart rhythm disorders, and the head of the Syncope unit and the non-invasive rhythmological technical platform at the Heart-Lung Institute of the Lille University Hospital.
The Benefits Of Physical Activity For The Hearts And Arteries Of Athletes
Sedentary lifestyles are a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, while physical activity promotes the proper functioning of the heart and the arteries that supply it.
Medically speaking, according to the French Federation of Cardiology, physical activity:
- Improves myocardial performance, increasing the strength of the heart’s contractions and allowing it to provide less effort to propel blood through the body
- Helps fight against high blood pressure
- Protects arteries by improving vasodilation, which reduces the risk of blood clots
- Helps maintain good glycemic balance and prevents type 2 diabetes
Moreover, physical activity greatly improves the quality of life for those experiencing heart arrhythmia:
- It makes daily tasks, such as climbing stairs or carrying groceries, easier
- Reduces stress and anxiety levels
- Increases enthusiasm and energy in everyday life
- Improves sleep quality
- Builds self-confidence
“The key to success is consistency,” emphasizes Dr. Kouakam. The beneficial substances produced by our bodies after physical activity only last for 24 to 36 hours, so it’s important to be consistent.
Can You Exercise If You Suffer From Heart Arrhythmia? And At What Pace?
Contrary to popular belief, most patients with heart arrhythmia can engage in physical activity, including those with a pacemaker, according to Dr. Kouakam. However, the type of activity must be discussed with a cardiologist, based on each patient’s specific condition. It’s important to remember that there are several types of heart arrhythmia, each with varying degrees of severity, including tachycardia, bradycardia, atrial fibrillation, ventricular fibrillation, atrial flutter, extrasystole, and conduction disorders.
Before starting any exercise program, it’s essential to consult with your cardiologist or primary care physician. They will conduct a battery of tests (see below) to assess your risks and recommend the most appropriate type of activity for your condition. To reduce the risk of complications, they will also advise you on the ideal frequency, duration, and intensity of your workouts.
Note that professional-level sports are completely prohibited in cases of heart arrhythmia due to the high risk of sudden death. “For physical activity to remain beneficial, patients must be able to engage in it safely,” emphasizes Dr. Kouakam.
Can You Exercise After A Heart Attack?
The answer is yes. In fact, physical activity is encouraged, as it can reduce mortality by 30% after a heart attack. Exercise rehabilitation is an integral part of post-operative care, and most patients engage in gentle and moderate physical activity regularly throughout their lives.
What Precautions Should You Take?
As mentioned earlier, patients who want to start a new exercise program are strongly encouraged to consult with their doctor. Once necessary operations are performed and treatments are in place, your doctor may prescribe additional tests:
- an electrocardiogram (ECG), or even wearing a Holter ECG for a few days or weeks
- an echocardiogram
- and/or a stress test (where the patient engages in physical activity under medical supervision)
Got The Green Light From Your Doctor? Stay Alert To Your Symptoms!
Zero risk doesn’t exist. Even if your cardiologist gives you the green light, you need to follow some common-sense rules:
- Stay hydrated (within reason) throughout the session
- Don’t forget to warm up properly before and after exercise
- Avoid exercising outdoors when temperatures are too extreme (too hot or too cold) or when pollution is too high
- In the heat of the moment, listen to your symptoms and check your heart rate regularly with connected tools
- Follow your treatment regimen and consult regularly to reassess your abilities and the effectiveness of your treatment
Stop all physical activity if:
- Your heart races more than usual;
- You are abnormally short of breath;
- You feel feverish and/or dizzy;
- You have nausea and a feeling of discomfort.
Can You Exercise With A Holter?
The Holter monitor is a portable medical device that measures the heart’s electrical activity over an extended period during daily life. Therefore, it is recommended to continue with your usual activities. However, avoid water sports and too-intense activities that may cause the electrodes to detach due to shock or excessive sweating.
Want To Stay Active, But Have A Heart Condition? Here’s What You Need To Know Before Hitting The Gym
It’s important to keep in mind that not all sports are created equal when it comes to heart health. People with heart arrhythmias should prioritize gentle endurance activities, especially if they’re not used to working out. So what are the best sports to try?
And if you’re worried about getting in enough exercise, you can always break it up into shorter sessions throughout the day.
But hold on – before you lace up those sneakers, make sure to avoid these high-intensity sports that can be dangerous for people with heart conditions:
- Rock climbing
Stay safe and healthy, friends!
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