Bouncing back from a heart attack with exercise

I have always enjoyed exercise, but I recently experienced heart failure. I’m well on the mend now but is there any evidence to show that I could still benefit from continuing to exercise, even at age 78? I live alone so I worry about the risks. Peter

I have always enjoyed exercise, but I recently experienced heart failure. I’m well on the mend now but is there any evidence to show that I could still benefit from continuing to exercise, even at age 78? I live alone so I worry about the risks. Peter

I have always enjoyed exercise, but I recently experienced heart failure. I’m well on the mend now but is there any evidence to show that I could still benefit from continuing to exercise, even at age 78? I live alone so I worry about the risks. Peter

First and foremost, this is something you will need to discuss with your doctor or heart specialist.

Heart failure is a major and increasingly common cardiovascular syndrome and is the end result of many cardiovascular disorders. It not only affects your heart, but as your blood circulation is involved, can make your other muscles feel tired or experience cramping. Exercise will help improve these feelings and make your body work more efficiently.

Once your doctor has given you the all clear to do so, follow the guidelines for exercise recommended by the Irish Heart Foundation.

Start slowly and gradually build up the time and speed of the exercise you take. Aim to exercise five days a week, but try not to take two consecutive days off as it can be more difficult to go back to it on day three.

If you can talk at the same time as doing your exercise it is a good sign that you are exercising hard enough. This means your body can cope with the exercise. You should be able to talk but not sing!

A mixture of aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or swimming, combined with gentle weight training is best, but check with your doctor before starting the weight training. You don’t need to join a gym to use weights. A couple of 500g bags of rice or two soda bottles filled with rice, sand or water, are just as effective.

Gradually build up to about 30 minutes of continuous exercise at a time. Start off with just 5 or 10 minutes and as your stamina improves increase it to 30 minutes over 6 - 8 weeks. Gradually slow down your activity over the last 10 minutes of each session and don’t forget to stretch your muscles before AND after each session.

Exercising with others can be easier, safer and more fun so why not see if there are any friends or family who would enjoy working with you. A gentle walk or cycle several times a week can be a great way to catch up with friends.

If you are housebound you can still exercise with stretches, climbing the stairs, simple weight training or yoga. Work out with your doctor what level is best for you and then find a suitable exercise DVD or video to get you started. Invite others in to exercise with you and make an occasion of it.

Check out the Irish Heart Foundation website, www.irishheartfoundation.ie, for more information and don’t forget to listen to your body. Don’t push yourself to work harder, faster or longer than your body wants as you may do yourself more harm than good. Take it slowly and let yourself gradually regain the fitness levels you once enjoyed.

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