CONVERSATIONS FOR THE HEART – Is Exercise Safe for Me? PART 1
Exercise is a “Superstar” when it comes to health benefits. If we could bottle exercise it would be more powerful than most treatments we have to date. Exercise can reduce all-cause mortality (death rates) and reduce most chronic illnesses. Even exercise done right after receiving chemotherapy is being studied and shows promise with better patient outcomes, and better quality of life. Reduction of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and depression are just a few of the benefits of regular exercise.
Before starting an exercise program it’s important to consider the following:
Are you currently having symptoms? (chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness or leg pain or swelling)
Do you have any limitations?
Have you had a reduction in activity because you don’t feel well?
What type of activity are you planning?
If you are in good health, a walking program is very safe; especially if you start off slow and build.
However, if you have limitations or symptoms it’s best to check with your health care provider before you start.
It is also very important not to overdo it (“weekend warrior”), if you have health problems or take medications, without getting checked first. If you are in hot, humid conditions or extreme cold it can put significant stress on your heart. It is important to stay hydrated and have periods of rest, especially when starting a new exercise regimen.
Exercise can help the heart tremendously. The blood pressure and heart rate go up with exercise, and over a period of time the heart becomes more efficient. The arteries can “relax better” with regular exercise. Nitric oxide in our bodies is part of the reason. When nitric oxide levels are up, there is reduced inflammation in the arteries. Nitric oxide helps keep arteries more open and lowers blood pressure, clotting and helps keep the arteries from thickening.
Various types of exercise can help produce other helpful chemicals in the body. New blood vessels can form easier and compounds like Interleukin-6 (a compound released from cells in our immune system) can help lower inflammation, raise testosterone levels and increase fat burning along with many other benefits (see Dr. Mark Houston’s book “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Heart Disease” for more information).
If you have symptoms or risk factors for heart disease, your doctor may recommend some testing before you embark on an exercise program. An EKG can be helpful, but a stress test may be needed to evaluate what happens during exercise. If you have a family history of heart or blood vessel disease it is very important to be checked for high blood pressure and other risk factors that can lead to blood vessel problems, especially diabetes, high cholesterol, tobacco use, and obesity.
The good news is that exercise can help prevent and reverse heart disease.
Although weight-bearing exercises are very helpful if you have limitations there are many options for activity that are safe and effective. Some include yoga, Pilates, tai chi or chi gung, swimming and biking all which can be adapted to your abilities. Many people with limitations benefit from Physical therapy to help start an exercise program.
Stay tuned for Part 2…Is it safe to exercise, for our fitness buffs….
Written by: Alicia Williams, D.O.
Dr. Alicia Williams is an Integrative Cardiologist at The Center for Optimal Health and offers cardiac screenings for athletes age 16 and older. Call (517) 324-9400 to set up your cardiac screening with Dr. Williams at The Center for Optimal Health in East Lansing, Michigan.
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