Should people with heart disease exercise?


Dr Elijah Behr of Mayo Clinic Healthcare on why patients whose conditions put them at higher risk of cardiac arrest can still exercise safely

It might seem that a steady regimen of rest and relaxation is the best course of action for someone with heart disease, but staying active is essential for the heart and overall health. Dr Elijah Behr, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in the Harley Street Medical Area, says that even people whose conditions put them at higher risk of cardiac arrest can exercise safely.

“Even in patients with quite damaged hearts that are causing heart failure, exercise can be important for improving quality of life,” Dr Behr explains. There is a caveat, though: “This has to be within reason, and care should be taken to avoid exacerbating the underlying condition.”

What should people with a heart condition consider when exercising?
The underlying heart condition should be considered when developing an exercise plan. “For example, if someone has coronary artery disease, meaning furring, or blockage, of the arteries due to cholesterol, then overexercising may cause chest pain and increase the risk from the underlying condition,” Dr Behr says. “On the other hand, patients with conditions that are not worsened by exercise, such as some heart rhythm problems, may exercise as much as they wish.”

Dr Elijah Behr of Mayo Clinic Healthcare

Dr Elijah Behr of Mayo Clinic Healthcare

What type of exercise is advised? Does it exclude cardio?
“Patients can undertake cardiovascular exercise and indeed this can be very good for their wellbeing and prognosis,” says Dr Behr. “However, the intensity and period of the exercise must be tailored to their condition.”

In general, if the condition is negatively affected by exercise, high-intensity, endurance or competitive sports are best avoided and a personalised approach from a cardiologist is advised, he adds.

What actions people can take to reduce the risk of cardiac arrest while exercising? What are the warning signs?
Avoiding excessively intense or prolonged exercise or competitive sports is usually the key to minimising risk while maximising benefit from exercise in patients with conditions that place them at risk of cardiac arrest.

If patients have chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations, or dizziness during exercise, they should stop exercising immediately and seek medical help, he advises.