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5 Tips to Stay Active with Heart Disease

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Five years ago, I had a heart attack at 38 years old. It damaged 20 percent of my heart and changed my life.

My doctor prescribed several medications to manage my heart disease and recommended that I lose 10 to 20 pounds to reduce my risk of heart disease complications. Losing weight would mean that my heart would have to work less hard to pump blood throughout my body.

My cardiologist suggested that I use diet and exercise to lose the weight. He added that exercise is important to strengthen the heart. It lowers blood pressure and blood sugar, reduces stress, and can even help you to sleep better. All of these benefits support heart health.

The American Heart Association recommends aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. Moderate activity is anything where you’re breathing harder, but you can still hold a conversation, like brisk walking.

My doctor didn’t give me a specific program or a time frame — I think because I had just had a massive heart attack and he didn’t want to stress me out. He wanted me to aim for a reasonable amount of exercise at a steady pace.

The struggle to lose weight and stay active

I started out with 3 months of cardiac rehab. This slowly made me confident that I was well enough to work out on my own.

When I finished with cardiac rehab, I began walking and jogging on the treadmill. I soon learned that I didn’t have the strength or stamina to exercise like I used to due to the damage to my heart. The struggle quickly became real.

I could easily run three miles about a year and half before my heart attack. Afterward, I could barely run one mile. It was definitely frustrating.

I realized I had to get creative to stay active.

Here are my five tips to exercise with heart disease.

Park far away from where you’re going

The simplest way to exercise more? Fit a walk into your daily routine.

I parked as far away from our security gate as possible at my old office. My daily walk was 1.1 miles each way. I dreaded the routine. But I knew it was doing my body good.

I use this tactic when I go to the grocery store or mall. I never circle the lot to find prime parking. I take an available spot in the distant somewhere because I know I’ll get in extra steps.

Sure, it’s a bit of a hike on a hot day. But it’s totally worth it. This might be the biggest workout you’re getting. You’ve got to make it count.

Go shopping

My heart attack happened in June. It was way too hot to exercise outside. I started regularly walking around my local department stores for 30 minutes at my own pace.

I still go “shopping” when I want to take a leisurely stroll someplace other than a gym treadmill. I feel comfortable and safe surrounded by so many people.

You don’t have to buy anything, but you do get to browse. Plus, it’s good people-watching!

Take the stairs instead of the elevator

I admit. This is tough sometimes! But it’s so worth it.

The elevator gets you from point A to point B with no effort. Take the stairs and feel proud of your accomplishment!

You don’t have to run. Walking is fine — as long as you do it. Feel yourself working, but don’t push too hard.

Stairs still wind me, so I only do one flight at a time. I take the elevator for now if I need to get up two or more stories.

Take a stroll around the office

Parking is available at the front door at my new office. I had to find new ways to fit in my steps. I work at a large office, so I now make frequent laps around the building.

I know how tempting it can be to keep working behind your desk all day. But the fresh air is invigorating after being in front of a computer screen.

Get up and stretch your legs for 5 to 10 minutes every couple of hours. It may help to keep a pair of sneakers under your desk. Do a lap or two inside or outside of your office building. You’ll be ready to get back to the grind by the time you’re done.

Do housework

I don’t know about you, but laundry is a workout for me. A couple of loads exhausts me.

Checking and sorting the mail? That counts as a chore: You have to walk to the mailbox, right?

Break your housework up into small chores daily. That way you can be productive and active every day.

There are many more ways to stay active every day. Everyone has different needs based on their heart disease diagnosis and their energy and activity levels. Talk to your doctor and create a plan together that’s realistic and healthy for you.

It’s been a real struggle, but I have maintained my weight and am growing stronger and building stamina. I hope to increase my activity level as time goes on.

For more information on how to manage heart disease, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.

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NPS-US-NP-00638 MAY 2020