If you’ve experienced a heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, or heart surgery, you’re probably enrolled in a cardiac rehabilitation program with your health care provider. Cardiac rehabilitation is an important part of managing and improving your heart health.
A key element of cardiac rehabilitation is getting regular exercise. Regular activity benefits your health in a number of ways, including:
- lower blood pressure
- lower “bad” cholesterol levels
- higher “good” cholesterol levels
- healthy weight loss
- more energy
- better sleep
- better joint function and ability to complete daily tasks
- decreased bone mineral loss
- better control of diabetes
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most gyms and health centers are closed, and many people have had to adjust to exercising at home. Even as gyms begin to reopen, you may want to continue your exercise routine at home to reduce your risk of exposure to the virus. Here are some ways to get in your cardiac exercises at home so that you can continue to improve your heart health and your quality of life.
Warming up is essential to every exercise routine. It helps to prevent injury and increase’s flexibility so you can perform movements with greater ease. Muscles are warmed up through gentle movements that increase your blood flow and heart rate and open up blood vessels. Be sure to breathe normally throughout your warm-up exercises, and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. Examples of stretching exercises to perform before aerobic activity are calf and Achilles stretches, lower back and hamstring stretches, and thigh stretches. Ask your doctor for instructions on how to do these warm-up stretches safely.
Aerobic training is essential to reaching your goals for weight loss and improving your cardiovascular health. There are many different forms of aerobic training, which makes it easy for you to choose one that you enjoy and can stick with. Examples include walking, bicycling, swimming, jogging, cross country skiing, and rowing. Many of these can be done at home outdoors, making it easy to get in aerobic exercise even during a stay-at-home order. If you’re exercising outside and might encounter other people along the way, remember to wear a mask and wash your hands as soon as you get home to prevent illness.
The ideal frequency for your aerobic activity is five to six times per week, but it’s better to gradually increase the amount that you’re exercising instead of jumping right into an intense routine. If you’ve never exercised before, start with five- to ten-minute intervals of exercise a few times in one day. You can gradually increase the duration of your exercise to reach 45 to 60 minutes at a time.
For cardiac rehabilitation, it’s important to pay attention to your body as you’re exercising. Your doctor will provide you with a target heart rate (THR) for exercising. At home, you can measure your heart rate by counting your pulse for 15 seconds and multiplying the number by four. Try to keep your heart rate in the THR range provided by your doctor. You should also pay attention to your breathing and your pain level as you exercise. If you find that you can’t talk at all while exercising or if you are in extreme pain, stop and rest.
In addition to aerobic exercise, you should also incorporate resistance exercises into your routine two to three times per week. Resistance training allows you to build lean muscle to make everyday tasks, such as shopping, house cleaning, and yard work, a little bit easier. Increasing muscle tone and mass also helps to burn calories during the day, even when you’re resting.
For resistance training, use weights that allow you to complete 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise without too much strain. If you’re unable to get weights at home, you can also use resistance bands. Make sure that you’re breathing evenly and using slow, controlled movements throughout the exercises. As with aerobic exercises, you should start small, with just one set of each exercise, and slowly build up to three sets as you increase tolerance and stamina.
Examples of resistance exercises that you can perform at home with dumbbells or resistance bands include bicep curls, shoulder presses, upright pulls, triceps dips, lateral flys, and deltoid raises. Ask your doctor for instructions on how to do these exercises.
It’s important to cool down after every exercise session. Cooling down allows you to gradually decrease your heart rate, avoid dizziness, increase flexibility, and prevent muscle soreness. To cool down, you should decrease your exercise intensity and maintain a slow pace for two to five minutes, followed by repeating the stretches that you used to warm up.
Be sure to consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. These exercises can be done from the comfort of your own home, but you should still seek guidance from your heart specialist if you feel extreme pain or discomfort or if you’re unsure about the frequency and duration of exercise according to your specific needs.
If your cardiac rehabilitation routine has been disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis, the team at Cardiac Partners is here to help. Call (833) SJ-HEART to find a cardiac rehabilitation location near you.