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A new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found that exercise can play an important role in lowering our risk for developing heart failure as we age.

Along with other healthy lifestyle choices, exercise is a powerful tool to prevent disease.

Some of the causes of heart failure include coronary artery disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, damaged heart valves, heart arrhythmias, and even viruses or infections that can damage the heart muscle. Given the fact that heart failure is the cause of one in nine deaths, according the recent American Heart Association 2015 Statistical Update, it’s good to know that there is something that we can do to control these unfortunate odds.

After Your Diagnosis: Get Educated

If you’ve been diagnosed with heart failure, your doctors (PCP and cardiologist) will continue to monitor you closely. I would encourage anyone with a heart failure diagnosis to learn as much as you can about your condition in order to better understand the disease, its causes, treatments and the signs and symptoms to monitor.

A great way to learn more about your condition is to attend a traditional cardiac rehab program. You can exercise in a medically supervised environment, receive individualized exercise coaching and learn more about your new diagnosis. You can also look to your local cardiac rehab for more details about your individual coverage.

So how can exercise help to prevent and treat heart failure?

Prevention

Along with other healthy lifestyle choices like not smoking and a healthy diet, exercise is a powerful tool to prevent disease.

The many benefits we receive from exercise include obesity prevention and improved cardiovascular function. It also helps to prevent and treat diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. It is also a great way to reduce stress, which is a key factor in preventing most heart related illnesses that can lead to heart failure.

Your Walking Pace

The ACC study says that there was a 26% lower risk of heart failure when a person’s walking pace was greater than 3mph and a 22% lower risk when it was less than 2mph. This data is encouraging because it confirms that even at lower intensities, exercise can play an important role in disease prevention. If you are someone who can do more intense exercise, however, you may receive a greater benefit.

Treatment 

Many people with heart failure find it difficult to exercise on a regular basis because they experience symptoms such as shortness of breath and fluid retention. But it’s important to work with your physician on ways to reduce your symptoms in order to begin and maintain an exercise program.

Recent research shows that exercise can improve muscle mass and strength, along with cardiovascular function and the muscles of respiration, which can significantly help cardiac rehabilitation.

Regular cardiovascular exercise is an important piece in treating both coronary artery disease and heart failure. Research has proven many benefits in doing daily activities that maintain and improve cardiovascular function, lung function, oxygen transportation to skeletal muscles, and reduce shortness of breath. Various methods have been and are currently being studied in order to understand the best approach to cardiovascular training.

Thirty Minutes A Day of Cardio

The cardiovascular training recommendations continue to support at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise most days of the week to reach a goal of 180 minutes of per week. Since this is not always possible due to fluctuating symptoms, it’s okay to be flexible within these guidelines. If you have to do less one day, remember you can do more the next.

Strength Training

Strength training is important not only as we age, but also after a heart failure diagnosis. The combination of the two can cause skeletal muscle loss, which will decrease our overall strength and limit our ability to be active. Preserving skeletal muscle and building both muscular strength and muscle mass will contribute to helping you maintain your independence and quality of life.

Strength training for people who have experienced heart failure remains somewhat controversial. Some heart failure patients are not good candidates for strength training due to the severity of symptoms, so the prescription is on a case-by-case basis. Your physician can help you determine if strength training should be included in your fitness routine.

If you’re cleared to do strength training by your physician, you should train at least twice a week and include exercises to strengthen your chest, back, arms, shoulders, legs and core. This can include six to eight exercises where you lift light to moderate resistance for a series of 10-15 repetitions.

It’s important to closely monitor yourself for any adverse signs or symptoms while training and immediately report them to your physician. As with all exercise recommendations, always check with your physician prior to beginning any exercise program.

How has your fitness routine helped to improve heart failure?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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