Cardio Rehab for Athletes

Athletically Challenged after Cardiac Surgery? Fitness Tips from an Expert

Running, biking, hiking, skiing – if you’re an athlete, you probably view vigorous exercise as a normal part of life. But what if you also have a cardiovascular issue? It doesn’t necessarily mean the end of an active lifestyle, according to Gordon Blackburn, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute.

As Program Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation, Dr. Blackburn recommends that all patients consult with their physicians before beginning an exercise regimen. A customized exercise program for post-cardiac-bypass surgery is essential, and patients may be advised to participate in a cardiac rehab program to help determine appropriate exercises and intensity.

“An important tool during cardiac rehabilitation is a heart rate monitor to track your pulse while exercising,” says Dr. Blackburn. “Because of the impact of a patient’s medications and cardiovascular conditions, peak heart rate cannot be predicted with any sense of reliability or validity, and should be assessed directly with an exercise test to provide an accurate heart rate range during activity.”

Dr. Blackburn recommends heart rate monitors that use a chest strap rather than a wrist strap to more accurately measure heart rate response.

He says the best activities for postoperative cardiac patients are aerobic exercises that use large muscle groups, such as cycling, walking, jogging, rowing, elliptical training and even dancing. Dr. Blackburn also recommends strength training with resistance bands and lighter weights.

He is not a fan of boot camps or extreme exercise, even for those without cardiovascular disease. “There is no cardiovascular benefit to pushing to the extreme – a moderate cardiovascular activity at least three days a week that burns a total of 1,000 to 2,000 calories per week is sufficient,” he says. “There’s exercise for health and exercise for performance. Going to the high end of performance does not necessarily enhance your health.”

While athletes with cardiovascular disease may have an added risk for future events, Dr. Blackburn says the focus should be on optimally managing your cardiovascular risk factors, which include regular activity and a healthy diet.

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