Statistical updates from the American Heart Association in 2012 reported that 76.4 million Americans have high blood pressure and they anticipate an almost 10% rise in that number by 2030. From 1998 to 2008 the death rate attributed to high blood pressure rose by over 20% and the estimated direct and indirect cost was over $50 billion. (1)
In the past physicians have struggled with the question of whether exercise is beneficial for individuals who suffer from congestive heart failure. The question relates to improving the prognosis versus further demand on an already overstressed heart. Tentative results from a research paper have found that low intensity exercise has delayed the onset of progressive congestive heart failure. Researchers also found that some of the classical cellular and physiological alterations also improved with low intensity exercise.
The research was performed at the University of Colorado and Ohio State University and published in the American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology. Researchers believe that the key findings in this study were that exercise could delay the onset of decompensation, improves survivability and was dependence on the level of intensity of exercise. This indicates that although you can quickly push an individual with congestive heart failure too far, a trend of moderate intensity exercise has the potential for slowing the downward spiral. (2)
Another study published by the American Heart Association in 2003 found similar results. Researchers recommend producing an individualized approach taking into account the persons overall health, cardiac ability and exercise tolerance.
In the past physicians have been leery of recommending exercise but it is also known that exercise will help to relieve depression in individuals who have congestive heart failure, will improve sleep patterns, decreased muscle weakness and promote more independent living. Recommendations for exercise include listening to your body because muscles require oxygen to work. When the heart is not able to keep up with the demands you become short of breath which means it’s time to stop and rest. Exercise will also improve the efficiency which muscles used oxygen and does decrease the oxygen demand and reduce the workload on the heart long-term.
Once you have received the diagnosis and permission to exercise you should schedule it in your day just like anything else so that it is done on a regular basis. Use activities that you enjoy doing, such as walking, swimming, bicycling or gardening. Take care not to overdo and listen to your body. If you’re short of breath or feel fatigued than stop. Recognize that there will be roadblocks and prepare yourself for them. For example, if you enjoy walking then be prepared to find a place to walk when it’s raining, cold or snowing.
Remember that your body does best when it receives a bit of variety. You’ll gain more muscle mass, better oxygen deficiency and will enjoy it more if you mix your options up a bit. Try recruiting a friend to exercise with you each day. This helps your motivation and keeps you accountable someone else.
Keep a diary of your daily activities and your eating habits. This will help you to recognize where things must change and how much more exercise or how many other lifestyle changes you must make. When you look back over your diary in the coming months you can see how much was been done and how many improvements you’ve made. In writing things down makes you more accountable to yourself.
The number one goal for exercise with congestive heart failure is to achieve it with regularity. If you can only walk for five minutes then do that a couple of times a day. The key is to be regular in your efforts. Take a few minutes to warm up and cool down while exercising and don’t forget to stretch your muscles when they are warm. Avoid any heavy lifting and avoid exercise when it’s too cold or too warm outside. Extreme hot or cold weather, whether it’s showers, sauna or exercise, can adversely affect your vascular system.
Before starting any exercise program be sure you speak with your primary care physician or cardiologist. Each individual is different and while exercise may be indicated in the majority of individuals who have congestive heart failure, you may find that your cardiologist believes that it would be detrimental for you.
(1) American Heart Association: Statistical Fact Sheet
(2) American Journal of Physiology: Low-Intensity Exercise Training Delays Onset of Decompensated Heart failure in Spontaneously Hypertensive Heart Failure Rats
Utah Southwestern Medical Center: Dangerous Blood Pressure Increases During Exercise Can Be Blocked, Researchers Find
Sports Medicine: Effects of Exercise, Diet and Weight Loss on High Blood Pressure
University of New Mexico: Exercise and Resting Blood Pressure
Circulation: Exercise and heart Failure
Oxford Journals: Recommendations for Exercise Training in Chronic Heart Failure Patients