Heart Healthy Exercises - Ask The Pharmacist

Dec 2, 2014
A regular exercise routine along with adherence to a medication regimen can put cardiovascular patients on the path to better health.
  • High Blood Pressure/Heart Disease
  • High Blood Cholesterol
  • Obesity

A regular exercise routine is an important component of heart health, and yet less than a third of Americans get the minimum 30 minutes of daily exercise five days a week as recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Nationally, as many as 250,000 deaths each year are attributable to a lack of regular physical activity.

While exercise is important for everyone, regular aerobic activity can be critical to ensuring healthier outcomes for cardiovascular patients. A recent study found that just five to 10 minutes of daily running – even at slow speeds – can significantly lower the risk of mortality among cardiovascular patients.

As specialists in the Express Scripts Cardiovascular Therapeutic Resource Center®, my team and I counsel heart patients about the benefits of regular exercise in addition to lifestyle changes and following a prescribed medication regimen. Simply getting the recommended minimum amount of exercise can help reduce cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke by 30% to 40%, according to the AHA.

Benefits of regular exercise include:

  • A stronger heart muscle
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Better blood sugar level control
  • Maintained bone strength

Exercise also can help heart patients lead more active lives without chest pain. However, there are certain precautions that can minimize risks and prevent an adverse reaction.

First, patients should consult a physician prior to beginning an exercise regimen if they recently had heart surgery or a procedure, experience chest pain or shortness of breath, recently had a heart attack or have diabetes.

Cardiovascular patients on beta blockers, anti-arrhythmic drugs and calcium channel blockers may have a reduced heart rate and may experience lower gains in heart rates when exercising. For instance, exercising at 125 beats per minute while on a beta blocker may be the same as 155 without it. Medications such as the decongestant pseudoephedrine, antidepressants, and thyroid medications can increase exercise heart rate. It is important to know the right aerobic heart rate target to prevent overtraining or under-training for patients on any of these medications.

Also, high-intensity exercise such as pushups, sit-ups and heavy lifting may not be recommended for cardiovascular patients.

Lastly, it might be necessary to avoid certain everyday activities that can overly affect the heart rate such as raking, shoveling and mowing. Walking, swimming and light jogging are good beginner exercises for patients with a cardiovascular condition.

For those already on a workout schedule, here are a few useful tips to keep in mind:

  • Maintain a steady pace, and rest between workouts.
  • Do not exercise outdoors in extreme humidity or extremely hot or cold temperatures. This can make breathing difficult and cause chest pain.
  • In cold weather, cover the nose and mouth when exercising outside.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water – even when not feeling thirsty – especially on hot days.
  • Avoid overly cold or hot showers, or sauna baths after exercise.
  • Avoid exercising in hilly areas because it may cause the heart to work too hard. Closely monitor your heart rate with the target rate in mind.
  • Stop exercising and consult a physician if you're experiencing pain, dizziness, shortness of breath or excessive fatigue.
  • Stop the activity in the event of a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Check your pulse rate after 15 minutes of rest and consult a physician if the rate is still higher than 100 to 120 beats per minute.

A regular exercise routine along with adherence to the medication regimen can put cardiovascular patients on the path to better health.

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