Starting an Activity and Exercise Program
Bed rest, inactivity, surgery and/or heart disease can make you feel tired and weak. A regular activity program is a wise investment of time when you consider the many benefits you gain. Some benefits of activity are:
- Helps your muscles get stronger after illness and bed rest
- Helps you heart and cardiovascular system work more efficiently
- Gives you more energy
- Increases your ability to do regular activities without getting tired
- Improves your balance and flexibility
- Helps you feel good about yourself
- Maintains muscle tone and improves your posture
- Increases the amount of calories you use. This helps you stay at a healthy weight.
There are three important parts of an activity program:
- Warm-up – Gradually move from rest to exercise. This helps increase your breathing, heart rate and body temperature; warming up can improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness. The best warm-up includes stretching, range of motion activities and low-intensity activity.
- Conditioning – This is when you burn the most calories and get the most benefit from exercise. Remember to follow the FITT principle.
- Cool-down – This phase of exercise helps your body gradually return to a resting state. Walk slowly for a few minutes after the conditioning phase. You may also want to do some additional stretching or range-of-motion exercises.
FITT principle (Frequency, Intensity, Type and Time)
Your energy level can change from day to day after you have surgery or when you are recovering from an illness. This can affect how you progress with exercise. Be sure to remember your short-term and long-term exercise goals.
- Frequency refers to how often you should exercise. In the hospital, you walked for short periods of time multiple times per day. As you feel better, you will start to exercise for longer amounts of time, but you will exercise fewer times each day. Your short-term goal is four to six times per day. Your long-term goal is one to two times per day.
- Intensity refers to how hard the exercise is to do. You can use a simple scale of one to ten to judge the intensity of exercise. Your goal is to walk at a pace that you rate as moderate to somewhat heavy (three-four on the scale). As your energy level increases, you will need to walk faster to feel the same level of intensity as you did when you started your program.
- Type refers to the type of exercise you do. Walking is the type of exercise you will do shortly after your surgery. This type of exercise is free, does not require any special equipment, and is something we do every day. The goal is to use large muscles in a repetitive motion to increase your heart rate and effort level. You may want to do other activities, such as indoor cycling.
- Time refers to how long you exercise each session. Your short-term goal may be three to five minutes several times a day. As your strength and stamina increase, you will be able to walk longer each time. A good long-term goal is 20 to 30 minutes of continuous activity.
Exercise DO’s and DON’Ts
- DO start slowly and progress gradually through your activity program.
- DO warm-up and cool-down activities every time you exercise.
- DO exercise at a steady pace.
- DO dress appropriately for weather conditions and wear proper footwear.
- DO wait 60 to 90 minutes after you eat a meal before you exercise. Drink 6 to 8 ounces of fluid before and during activity, unless you need to restrict your fluids. This is especially important in hot and humid weather.
- DO reduce your activity level if your exercise program is interrupted for several days. Then gradually and comfortably work back up to a higher level.
- DO try to find a regular walking “buddy.” Having someone to walk with makes your activity time more enjoyable.
- DO stay close to home if you walk outdoors. You may want to make many small loops instead of walking a long stretch and feeling too tired to get home.
- DON’T go up steep hills or stairs while you are exercising. Avoid these whenever possible because they make the activity much harder.
- DON’T exercise if you feel overtired. It is better to wait until you feel rested.
- DON’T attempt activities that require sudden bursts of energy.
- DON’T exercise while you have an acute illness, infection or fever. Wait a few days after all of your symptoms disappear before you restart your activity program.
- DON’T exercise in extreme weather conditions. In the heat and humidity of summer, walk in the morning or evening when it is cooler. Exercising in extreme heat adds stress to your heart. Change your activity schedule if both the temperature and humidity are over 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 percent humidity. In cold weather, walk during the warmest part of the day. It is best not to exercise outside if it is slippery or if the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. When it is cold, try walking in local malls and shopping centers.
- DON’T take extremely hot/cold showers or sauna baths after you exercise.
Remember, you play an important part in your recovery. This is especially true when following your activity program. Research shows that patients who have heart surgery or angioplasty/stents and complete an outpatient, phase 2 cardiac rehab program, have fewer repeat heart problems over the long-term. If you did not receive an outpatient, phase 2 cardiac rehab referral when you were discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor for a referral to this program.