Being physically active helps lower high blood pressure. A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Fortunately it’s a risk factor that you can do something about.Physical activity can also:
- Strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system.
- Improve your circulation and help your body use oxygen better
- Reduce heart failure symptoms
- Increase energy levels so you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath
- Increase endurance
- Improve muscle tone and strength
- Improve balance and joint flexibility
- Strengthen bones
- Help reduce body fat and help you reach a healthy weight
- Help reduce stress, tension, anxiety and depression
- Boost self-image and self-esteem
- Improve sleep
- Make you feel more relaxed and rested
- Make you look fit and feel healthy
How do I become more physically active?
Always check with your doctor first before starting an exercise programme or making major changes to your lifestyle. Your doctor can help you find an exercise programme that matches your level of fitness and physical condition. Here are some questions to ask your doctor:
- What level of physical activity can I do each day?
- How often can I exercise each week?
- What type of physical activity should I do?
- What type of activities should I avoid?
- Should I take my medicine(s) at a certain time around my exercise schedule?
- Do I have to take my pulse while exercising?
What type of exercise is best?
Different types of activity and exercise have different effects on the body. Aerobic exercise is the most helpful for your heart. Aerobic exercise is steady physical activity using large muscle groups. This type of exercise strengthens the heart andlungs and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen. Over time aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure and improve your breathing.
What are examples of aerobic exercises?
Aerobic exercises include: walking, jogging, skipping, cycling (stationary or outdoor), dancing, skating, rowing, high or low-impact aerobics, swimming and water aerobics.
Scuba diving or parachuting can be dangerous, and activities that are short and intensive such as sprinting or weightlifting will quickly raise your blood pressure, putting unwanted strain on your heart and blood vessels. You should talk to your doctors before you try any of these.
How often should I exercise?
The NHS recommends doing at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, on as many days of the week as possible.
If you decide to include more formal exercise as part of increasing your physical activity, every exercise session should include a warm-up, a conditioning phase and a cool-down.
- Warm-up. This helps your body adjust slowly from rest to exercise. A warm-up reduces the stress on your heart and muscles, and slowly increases your breathing rate, heart rate and body temperature. It also helps improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness. The best warm-up includes stretching, range of motion activities and the beginning of the activity at a low intensity level.
- Conditioning. This follows the warm-up. During the conditioning phase, thebenefits of exercise are gained and calories are burned. Be sure to monitor the intensity of the activity (check your heart rate). Don’t over do it.
- Cool-down. This is the last phase of your exercise session. It allows your body to gradually recover from the conditioning phase. Your heart rate and blood pressure will return to near resting values. Cool-down does not mean to sit down! In fact do not sit, stand still or lie down right after exercise. This may cause you to feel dizzy or lightheaded or have heart palpitations (fluttering in your chest). The best cool-down is to slowly decrease the intensity of your activity. You may also do some of the same stretching activities you did in the warm-up phase.
How can I avoid overdoing it?
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.
- Take time to include a 5-minute warm-up, including stretching exercises, before any aerobic activity and include a 5- 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.
How can I stick with it?
Have fun! Choose an activity that you enjoy. You’ll be more likely to increase your level of physical activity if you enjoy the activity. Here are some questions you can think about before choosing a routine:
- What physical activities do I enjoy?
- Do I prefer group or individual activities?
- What programmes best fit my schedule?
- Do I have physical conditions that limit my choice of exercise?
- What goals do I have in mind? (For example losing weight, strengtheningmuscles or improving flexibility.)
- Fit exercise into your daily routine. Plan to exercise at the same time every day (such as in the mornings when you have more energy). Add a variety of exercises so that you do not get bored. If you exercise regularly, it will soon become part of your lifestyle.
- Exercise with a friend. This will help you stay motivated.
Also, being physically active does not have to put a strain on your wallet. Avoid buying expensive equipment or health club memberships unless you are certain you will use them regularly.
Exercise precautions for people with heart disease
- Discuss your plans to increase your physical activity with your doctor.
- Review your plans with your doctor regularly. This is particularly important if changes have been made in your medications. Ask your doctor about how any changes to your medicines may affect you and your body’s response to physical activity before continuing your regular exercise programme. New medicines can greatly affect your response to activity.
- If you are too tired and are not sure if it is related to overexertion, ask yourself, “What did I do yesterday?” Try to change your activities by starting out at a lower level today (but do not exercise if you are feeling very overly tired). Pace yourself and balance your activities with rest.
- Avoid heavy lifting, pushing heavy objects and jobs such as raking, shovelling, mowing and scrubbing. Jobs around the house may sometimes be tiring, so ask for help.
- Ask your doctor what aerobic and strengthening exercises are appropriate for you and which activities you should avoid.
- Avoid even short periods of bed rest after exercise since it reduces exercise tolerance. If you become overly fatigued or short of breath with exercise, take a rest period in a comfortable chair.
- Avoid exercising outdoors when it is too cold, hot or humid. High humidity may cause you to tire more quickly and extreme temperatures can interfere with your circulation and make breathing difficult. Avoid extremely hot and cold showers or sauna baths after exercise.
- Do not go up steep hills during your activity, whenever possible. If you must walk on a hilly area, slow your walking pace when going uphill to avoid working too hard. Watch your heart rate closely and change the activity as needed.
- Reduce your activity level if your exercise programme has been interrupted for a few days (for example due to illness, holiday or bad weather). Then gradually increase to your regular activity level as tolerated.
- Do not exercise if you are not feeling well or have a fever. Wait a few days after all symptoms disappear before returning to physical activity unless your doctor gives you other advice.
- If you are short of breath during any activity or have increased fatigue, slow down your activity level or rest. If you continue to have shortness of breath, ask your doctor for advice. Your doctor may make changes in your medicines,diet or fluid restrictions.
- If you develop a rapid or irregular heartbeat or have heart palpitations, rest. Check your pulse after you rest for a few minutes – if your pulse is still irregular or persistently fast, seek medical advice for further instructions.
- Do not ignore pain. If you have chest pain or pain anywhere else in your body, do not continue the activity. If you perform an activity while you are in pain, you may be doing more harm than good. Ask your doctor for guidelines. Learn to “read” your body and know when you need to stop an activity.
Stop exercising and rest if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Unexplained weight gain or swelling
- Pressure or pain in your chest, neck, arm, jaw or shoulder or any other symptoms that cause concern.
- Call Emergency if these symptoms do not go away quickly, or if such symptoms continue to recur.