Exercise After Heart Attack Reduces Risk

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Exercise after recovery from a heart attack may improve long-term survival rates, according to several sources.

The American Heart Association says that exercise for those who have recovered from heart attack can help them reduce their risk of a second incident shortly after the first.

It may seem counter-intuitive to exercise a recovering heart; however, a Swedish study of 22,227 heart attack patients recently published by the American Heart Association indicates that exercise is helpful. Researchers asked participants about their activity level six to 10 weeks after their heart attack, and about a year later.

The follow-up with these patients indicated those who said they were “constantly active” experienced a 71 percent lower risk of death in the two to four years after their heart attack compared with the inactive group. But even those with more moderate exercise regimens during that period experienced a 44 percent decrease risk of a second heart attack.

It’s clear that any amount of exercise is beneficial to heart attack survivors, but more regular exercise offers the greatest reduction in subsequent heart attack risk. Recovery all starts with following the cardiologist’s plan.

Following the recovery from a cardiac event, Oswego Health’s cardiologist Thomas Grady Jr. recommends his patients take part in a cardiac rehabilitation program.

Oswego Health’s Lakeside Heart Center provides cardiac rehabilitation to community members who have recently experienced a cardiac event.

“Each individual has a program tailored to meet their specific needs,” said Grady said.

Patients exercise under medical supervision by specialists in heart recovery and while they wear heart monitoring equipment that can detect heart problems.

Patricia Briest, nurse manager for cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at St. Joseph’s Health, said that completing cardiac rehabilitation “improves the overall quality of life for individuals recovering from heart attacks, reduces the likelihood of reoccurrence —largely due to improvement in general health habits which includes healthy diet and exercise — and in the event of a reoccurring heart attack, improves survival rates.”

She added that patients are stronger and healthier if they sustain their new, healthy habits. That’s why it’s important to continue eating right and exercising after cardio rehabilitation.

Providers like St. Joseph’s and Oswego Health also offer education on supporting heart health to help ensure patients continue their healthy lifestyle.

Physician Az Tahir said that following the cardiovascular rehabilitation recommended by one’s cardiologist “is very, very safe” and that walking is also both safe and effective.

Tahir practices holistic integrative medicine at High Point Wellness in Syracuse.

He recommends that patients who have completed rehabilitation should ask the cardiologist about high intensity interval training (HIIT).

“That has not too much stress to the heart and has been shown to benefit the heart,” Tahir said.

HITT involves a burst of exercise — brisk walking, running, jumping rope, pedaling on a stationary bicycle, etc. — for 30 to 60 seconds at high intensity followed by a active rest of one to two minutes. Active rest could include slowly walking or simply reducing the rate of movement to a comfortable pace.

But Tahir cautioned that exercise has to be under the physician’s guidance. “The cardio rehab should be done and gradually increased,” he said.

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