Heart Failure and the Importance of Staying Active, even in the Winter Months

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When thinking of things that are bad for your health, sitting isn’t often the first thing that comes to mind. However, inactivity or sitting for extended periods of time can be harmful to your health. It is especially harmful to those with heart failure. But when many feel cooped up during these winter months, how can you stay as active? Karena A. Sauser, DNP ARNP, from the Cardiology Department at Medical Associates shares more on the importance of staying active and tips to do it safely in the winter months.

For a patient with heart failure, difficulty breathing and fatigue resulting in diminished exercise tolerance are among the main factors that contribute to decreased social and physical functionality and quality of life. Exercise is a safe, non-pharmacological intervention in stable patients with heart failure. Along with medical therapy, exercise has positive effects on both morbidity and quality of life. Remember to speak with your healthcare provider before starting any form of exercise.

Some patients with heart failure may qualify for cardiac rehab. During cardiac rehab, exercise occurs under supervision with monitoring of blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rhythm. The added responsibility of showing up for appointments gives cardiac rehab patients more motivation to exercise. Cardiac Rehab Programs are offered in the following regional locations: Mercy-Dubuque, Maquoketa, Independence, Anamosa, and Manchester in Iowa; Galena in Illinois; and Darlington, Dodgeville, Boscobel, Lancaster, and Prairie Du Chien in Wisconsin.

However, if your provider tells you it is okay, it is also acceptable to exercise on your own. Just remember to start slow and gradually increase the length and intensity of your workout. You can start with 5-10 minutes/day at a slow pace and increase time and speed as you get stronger. An ideal goal for patients with mild to moderate heart failure is to exercise at least 150 minutes per week (30 minutes 5 days/week or 20-25 minutes daily). It is best to pick activities that you enjoy and are low-impact, such as walking, biking, or swimming. It is important to have a five minute warm-up/stretching period and five minute cool-down/stretching period. Avoid abruptly stopping exercise or immediately sitting or laying down after exercise to prevent dizziness or lightheadedness. It is also important to exercise year-round, even during the bitter cold of winter. If fitness centers are not an option or do not fit into your budget, there are many other heated places to exercise as the weather turns cold. You can always walk in churches, shopping malls, bigger “boxy” stores (like Wal-mart), or at the Mystique ice arena on the upper deck.

When in doubt, remember to follow these tips to exercise safely with heart failure:

  • Avoid exercises that require or encourage holding your breath.
  • Wait at least one hour after eating to exercise.
  • Avoid exercises or actions that require short bursts of energy (interval training).
  • Exercise when you have the most energy. For most heart failure patients, this is in the morning.
  • Think about exercising with a friend or family member. This can make it more enjoyable and social. It also keeps you more accountable/committed.
  • You should be able to talk while you exercise. If not, then you are probably exercising too hard and need to slow down.
  • The day after exercise, you may feel more tired. It is important to balance activity and rest.
  • Avoid exercising in extreme weather conditions. Find safe spaces to exercise that are between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and under 80% humidity.
  • Avoid exercise when you are not feeling well, have a fever, or your heart failure symptoms are not controlled.

One of the most important ways people with heart failure can maintain their sense of well-being is to stay active. The impact of movement, even leisurely movement, can be profound. Remember to speak with your healthcare provider before starting any form of exercise. Window shopping the mall aisles with a friend, roaming your local museum or art gallery, or stretching and doing some light exercises throughout your daily tasks at home are a few great ways to stay active during the cold months. It all helps burn calories, increase your energy, maintain muscle tone, as well as improve your mental well-being, especially as you age.

 

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Karena A. Sauser, DNP ARNP
Department of Cardiology
Medical Associates Clinic

 

 

 

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