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Start moving—no matter what shape you’re in

Is it safe to exercise with heart disease?

With rare exceptions—severe or acute congestive heart failure, for example—exercise helps most people with heart disease prevent further damage. And it can even help reverse some types of heart disease, such as coronary artery disease. Regular physical activity decreases total cholesterol levels, increases HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind), reduces stress and lowers high blood pressure. It also boosts the heart’s capacity for work, so it increases stamina and delays the onset of angina. In addition, exercise helps trim excess pounds and control high blood-sugar levels—both of which can aggravate heart disease.

What is a stress test?

A “stress test” may sound like what happens when your grown children move back into your home, but it actually has nothing to do with emotional endurance. The stress, instead, is the challenge of increasing activity on your heart,

A normal, healthy heart meets the challenge of exercise by gradually increasing its rate and pumping strength to provide increasing amounts of blood (and oxygen) to the muscles.

During a stress test, a patient’s heart rate, blood pressure and heart rhythm are monitored. These measurements are taken at rest and then as a patient walks on a treadmill. (Other types of equipment are used if a patient can’t walk.) The treadmill starts at a very slow rate, and its speed and incline are increased every three minutes until the patient or doctor determines that it’s time to stop.

Question: What medical therapy can increase your stamina, slow or reverse the aging process, lift depression and reduce anxiety? By the way, it can also prevent fractures and increase your life span—all for free!

Answer: Exercise. And the good news is it’s not just for the fit and trim.
Even those who are disabled by chronic illness or those who are elderly and frail can improve their ability to function in their daily lives by becoming more active. Here’s how you can go about reclaiming strength, flexibility and endurance:

  1. See your doctor.
    Certain medical conditions can make exercise risky. Is it safe for you to exercise? At what level? Should you exercise in a medically supervised program? Your doctor may recommend an exercise stress test to help answer those questions (see “What is a stress test?”).
  2. Do something—anything.
    Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to improve your health and your ability to function. So don’t be overwhelmed by guidelines that recommend high-intensity exercise. Instead, do what you can. If it’s an effort to get off the sofa and walk to the door, just do that—only do it more often, say hourly or every 15 minutes. Research shows that even people who are extremely frail can increase their gait speed or decrease the time it takes to rise out of a chair—if they exercise.
  3. Break activity down into small time increments.
    If you don’t have the time or energy for 30 minutes of continuous exercise, spread it out. Start with 10 minutes of activity, then do it again and again—for a total of 30 minutes.
  4. Make it routine.
    Ideally, exercise will become as automatic as brushing your teeth. So choose a time of day that’s convenient and stick with it until it’s a habit.
  5. If possible, walk.
    Walking strengthens your heart and your bones, making you less susceptible to fractures. (Be sure to arrange an inclement weather plan, such as mall walking.)
  6. Include strengthening exercises.
    Performing simple calisthenics or lifting handheld weights can prevent weakness. And you can exercise your arms without even getting out of a chair. Begin with three sets of five repetitions and work toward a goal of three sets of 15 repetitions. When using weights, start by flexing and lifting the weight of your arms and empty hands. After eight to 10 weeks, use tomato-paste cans (6 ounces), then advance to soup cans (10 3/4 ounces) and eventually to kidney-bean cans (15 ounces). After that, you may want to purchase 2- or 3-pound weights.
  7. Go slowly.
    Once you’ve established your current activity level, increase it. A long-term goal: A minimum of 30 minutes of exercise almost every day. But those who are physically active longer (60 to 90 minutes, say) or more intensely will derive greater benefits, such as body weight control and sustained weight loss.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media