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Heart Disease and Exercise

Heart Disease and ExerciseTypically, lifestyle modifications serve as the first line of defense your doctor will recommend as a way to combat and reduce current diagnosed medical conditions and risk factors. Risk factors can be classified into two: non-modifiable and modifiable.

  • Non-modifiable risk factors: These are irreversible and cannot be changed. The more of these risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing a particular disease. Examples include: family history, age, gender, race, etc.
  • Modifiable risk-factors: These factors can be modified, treated or controlled through medications or lifestyle changes. Examples include: smoking, alcohol consumption, dieting habits, exercise, etc.

For example, being physically active is one of the most important actions that people of all ages can take to improve their health. It is also important to note, that less than 60 percent of Americans are regularly active and 25 percent report they are not active at all. Yet exercise may be the most important factor to consider in the promotion of cardiovascular health. A moderate amount of activity performed three to five days per week can:

  • Reduce the risk of dying from heart disease
  • Help your heart and cardiovascular system work more efficiently
  • Decrease symptoms of angina (chest pain) and heart failure
  • Reduce risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Improve blood lipids (cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides)
  • Control weight and reduce body fat

Please note: Always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. The general information included in this page is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your doctor. Consult with your doctor to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your doctor.

For those individuals who have been cleared to start an exercise program, please be sure to continue to check in with your doctor and share any updates regarding changes in worsening health condition, medications, etc. And remember, do not alter anything within your exercise program prior to checking and getting the approval of your doctor.

For those individuals looking to improve upon their overall health, RWJBarnabas Health is able to offer a 12-week risk factor modification program. To learn more, please visit “RWJBH Health and Wellness.”

What are the Different Types of Exercise?

Exercise can be divided into three basic types:

Aerobic activity: In this kind of physical activity, the body’s large muscles move in a rhythmic manner for a sustained period of time. Examples include: Brisk walking, running, bicycling, jumping rope, and swimming. Aerobic activity causes a person’s heart to beat faster, and they will breathe harder than normal.

  • Intensity: It encompasses how hard a person works to do the activity. Intensity level is mostly classified as moderate (i.e. brisk walking) and vigorous (i.e. running or jogging).
  • Frequency: It encompasses how often a person does aerobic activity.
  • Duration: The length of the activity in any one session.

Heart Disease and ExerciseMuscle-Strengthening: This kind of activity, which includes resistance training and weight lifting, causes the body’s muscles to work or hold against an applied force or weight. These activities often include weights, however, elastic bands or body weight can also be used.

Muscle-strengthening activity has three components:

  • Intensity: It encompasses how hard a person works to do the activity. The amount of weight or force as relative to the person’s ability to lift.
  • Frequency, or how often a person does muscle-strengthening activity
  • Sets and repetitions, or how many times a person does the muscle-strengthening activity, like lifting a weight or doing a push-up (comparable to duration for aerobic activity

Heart Disease and ExerciseFlexibility Activities: These kinds of activities enhance the ability of a joint to move through the full range of motion. Stretching exercises are effective in increasing flexibility, and thereby can allow people to more easily do activities that require greater flexibility.

How Often Should I Exercise?

In general, to achieve maximum benefits, you should gradually work up to an aerobic session lasting 20 to 30 minutes, at least three to four times a week. Initially, exercising every other day will help you start a regular aerobic exercise schedule. The American Heart Association recommends working up to exercising on most days of the week. While the more exercise you can do the better, any amount of exercise is beneficial to your health.

What Should I Include in an Exercise Program?

An exercise program is made up of three phases. To avoid injury and problems, please include all three phases in your exercise session.

Heart Disease and Exercise1. The warm-up: This phase helps you move from rest to activity. The warm-up helps to slowly increase breathing, heart rate and body temperature. It also helps to improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness. The warm-up should last about 5 minutes and may include:

  • Stretching exercises
  • Range of motion activities
  • Your exercise activity at a very low intensity (for example, walking at a very slow pace)

Heart Disease and Exercise2. Conditioning: This phase follows the warm-up and provides you with the benefits of exercise. For the best results, remember these important points in your Conditioning Phase:

  • Frequency: how often you need to exercise.
  • Intensity – how vigorous you need to exercise. It should be enough to get your heart rate and breathing to increase
  • Duration – how long you need to exercise
    • 30 to 40 minutes of continuous exercise OR
    • 10 minute increments to equal 30 to 40 minutes throughout the day.
    • Your weekly time should total 150-200 minutes in the conditioning phase

Heart Disease and Exercise3. Cool-down: This last phase allows your body to recover from the conditioning phase. Heart rate and blood pressure will return to near resting values. Cool-down does not mean sit down! In fact you should not stand still, sit or lie down right after exercise. The cool-down should last 5 minutes and many include:

  • Slowly decrease the intensity of your activity
  • Perform the stretching and range of motion exercises from your warm-up phase

*Stop exercising right away and call 911 if you experience chest pain or discomfort, are short of breath even when you stop exercising/exerting yourself, have dizziness or nausea, or if you notice your heart racing or “skipping a beat.”

What are the Different Components of an Exercise Program?

There are several components that make up an exercise program. The acronym FITT can be an easy way to remember such.

  • Frequency - how many days per week you exercise. It is recommended that you exercise 3 to 5 days per week.
  • Intensity - how hard you need to exercise. The most ideal way to determine your exercise intensity is by using the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. This scale was developed so people can rate how hard they work during exercise. *Please see below for a more detailed explanation about the RPE scale.
  • Time - how long you exercise. It is recommended that you exercise a total of 150 minutes per week.
  • Type - type of exercise you choose to do. Examples include: walking, cycling, swimming, baseball, weight lifting, calisthenics, and gymnastics.

What Is the Rated Perceived Exertion Scale?

The Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is used to measure the intensity of your exercise. The RPE scale runs from 0-10. The numbers below relate to phrases used to rate how easy or difficult you find an activity. For example, 0 (nothing at all) would be how you feel when sitting in a chair; 10 (very, very heavy) would be how you feel at the end of an exercise stress test or after a very difficult activity.

RPE Scale measures:

0 = nothing at all

1 = very light

2 = light

3 = moderate

4 = somewhat heavy

5-6 = heavy

7-9 = very heavy

10 = very, very heavy

In most cases, you should exercise at a level that feels 3 (moderate) to 4 (somewhat heavy). When using this rating scale, remember to include feelings of shortness of breath, as well as how tired you feel in your legs and overall.

How Can I Avoid Overdoing Exercise?

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Gradually increase your activity level, especially if you have not been exercising regularly.
  • Wait at least one and a half hours after eating a meal before exercising.
  • When drinking liquids during exercise, remember to follow your fluid restriction guidelines.
  • Take time to include a five-minute warm-up, including stretching exercises, before any aerobic activity and include a five- to 10-minute cool-down after the activity. Stretching can be done while standing or sitting.
  • Exercise at a steady pace. Keep a pace that allows you to still talk during the activity.
  • Keep an exercise record.

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