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Considerations for exercising after a cardiac event

by Theresa Russwurm

You may be thinking after your surgeon “fixes” your heart you do not need to exercise, especially if you did not exercise prior to your cardiac event.

It is highly recommended by surgeons to go through a cardiac rehabilitation program. The cardiac program helps you regain your strength and reduce your risk of another cardiac event through education, exercise and counselling.

For more information on a cardiac rehabilitation program close to you go to

Once you have graduated from a cardiac rehabilitation program you may find it challenging to continue exercise on your own. How long? What intensity? What kind of exercise?

The guidelines for exercise is 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, preferable all days of the week. There are three important components of exercise that need to be done every time you exercise: warm up, aerobic exercise, cool down.

The warm up is important for injury prevention, cardiovascular optimization and reduction of irregular heartbeats. The warm up is meant to get the muscles ready for exercise; increase oxygen to the muscles via increase in blood flow. Start with slowly walking for five to 10 minutes before starting your scheduled workout.

Aerobic exercise consists of using large muscle groups to increase your heart rate. Depending on your condition you may use a treadmill, stationary bike or swimming as your means of aerobic exercise.

Aerobic exercise should be at an intensity that feels like some work or 20 to 30 beats above your resting heart rate. Not everyone is able to exercise at the same intensity for the same amount of time. Exercise at a pace that feels right for you, do not try to push it. Take your time and work your way up to exercising for 30 minutes continuously. If you are able to talk and walk you are exercising at a good intensity.  

The cool down also plays an important role in injury prevention. Start your cool down by walking at a slower pace than you warmed up. You want your heart rate to become lower than your exercise heart rate. Stretching is also part of the cool down, it helps the muscles relax and prevents cramping of muscles.

After being away from work and/or regular activities for a period of time your muscles become weak and you may find that you are unable to perform the same tasks you were prior to your cardiac event. Performing resistance training two or three times per week will help you get back to doing those regular activities. Doing each exercise eight to 12 times, two to four sets with two to three minutes of rest between sets is the recommendation. Perform a couple reps of each exercise without any resistance prior to adding resistance to help get the muscles ready for lifting the extra weight.

Some people may have surgery after having a heart attack and the timelines for starting aerobic exercise and resistance training are different for surgeries or procedures that have been done. After a stent has been inserted you should wait for  three weeks, or when 30 minutes of low intensity exercise can be sustained before you progress to a moderate level of exercise. After surgery that involves sternotomy incision it is advised you wait six to eight weeks before becoming involved in physical activity. If you had a pacemaker inserted you are advised not lift your arms above head height for four weeks due to the leads on the heart.

Contact your family doctor or exercise specialist after graduating a cardiac rehabilitation program before starting an exercise program on your own.

The Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team has two health promoters/kinesiologists who can help you start your exercise program.

For more information about any of the free services offered by the Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team, visit the website at or call the Drayton/Palmerston office at 519-638-2110 or the Clifford office at 519-327-4777. Like the team on Facebook (Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team) and follow them on Twitter (@MintoMapleton) for healthy living tips and information on upcoming programs and events in the area.

Theresa Russwurm, is a kinesiologist with the  Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team.

November 10, 2017


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