If you've recovering from a heart attack or have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure, regular exercise can be a vital part of your therapeutic program. However, this exercise should be tailored to your medical situation. In most cases, you will need a specific rehabilitation prescription that is designed and supervised by a physician or cardiac rehabilitation specialist.
Before you begin an exercise program, your doctor will need to assess your needs and abilities. He or she will ask about your health history, especially your specific heart problems. Your doctor also will review your medications, diet, physical activities patterns and home situation. You will need a physical examination, including measurement of your heart rate, blood pressure and exercise capacity. Usually, this will involve an exercise treadmill or stress test. Lastly, your doctor will need to review or order blood tests including cholesterol, blood count and blood sugar. Then, he or she doctor will prescribe a specific exercise program.
A monitored exercise program usually is recommended for people who are recovering from a heart attack or who have more severe heart disease. This means exercising at a hospital or special clinic while wearing a heart monitor. A trained rehabilitation specialist will oversee your activities. A cardiac rehabilitation program also includes counseling about diet, medications and stress reduction.
If you have completed a monitored exercise program, or have stable heart disease, your physician may be able to prescribe an exercise program that you can regulate yourself or with minimal supervision. For most people, exercise should become a daily routine.
Recommended exercise programs for cardiac patients tend to be conservative but consistent, involving three to four aerobic workouts per week. A typical exercise session begins with a 10- to 15-minute warmup, followed by 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise done at a predetermined target heart rate (usually 60 to 70 percent of maximum heart rate, depending on the physician's assessment). A full 5- to 10-minute cooldown is also essential.
Strength training — particularly with weight machines — has been found to be safe and beneficial for many heart patients. Again, your doctor or cardiac rehabilitation specialist can help tailor strength training activities to meet your individual needs. For most heart patients, a complete training regimen includes aerobic, strength and flexibility exercises.