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People with stable heart disease can exercise safely

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Dr Angie Brown

Consultant Cardiologist and Medical Director, Irish Heart Foundation

An increase in sedentary lifestyles makes promoting physical activity more important than ever.

Physical activity is recommended for everyone with heart disease and can reduce the risk of someone with heart disease dying early, according to international guidelines published last year. According to a report from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), just like healthy adults of all ages, people with heart disease should exercise on most days, totalling at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. 

Moderate intensity means increasing your heart rate and breathing rate but still being able to hold a conversation. People with long-standing coronary artery disease who wish to take up exercise for the first time should see their doctor first to tailor the intensity of activity according to the patient’s individual risk.

Encouraging more physical activity

For people living with obesity or those with high blood pressure or diabetes, the guidelines recommend strength-building exercise (for example, lifting light weights) at least three times a week plus moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise, such as cycling, running or swimming.

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease and is caused by build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the arteries. If the arteries become completely blocked this can cause a heart attack. Most people with stable coronary artery disease can play sports according to their fitness and condition. People who are completely inactive and those with advanced heart disease need to consult their doctor before taking up sports.

Regular, moderate physical activity is recommended to prevent the most common heart rhythm disorder – called atrial fibrillation. People with atrial fibrillation who are taking anticoagulants to prevent stroke should avoid contact sports due to the risks of bleeding.

People with pacemakers should not be discouraged from playing sports (except collision sports) because of the device. However, they need to tailor their choice according to the underlying disease.

Regular, moderate physical activity is recommended to prevent the most common heart rhythm disorder – called atrial fibrillation.

Breaking up sedentary time

The Irish Heart Foundation welcomed the ESC recommendations and said they provided reassurance for patients with cardiovascular disease. With rising levels of obesity and sedentary lifestyles – which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – promoting physical activity is more crucial now than ever before.

Regular exercise not only prevents heart disease, but also reduces premature death in people with established heart disease. This is one reason we launched our Escape Your Chair campaign last September to highlight the importance of reducing sitting times with frequent daily activities, this is particularly important as we have found sitting times to be significantly increased with so many people are working from home.

Sitting for long periods of time can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore, it is important that everyone, particularly those living with heart disease, try to reduce their sitting time.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Escape Your Chair campaign, urges everyone to get up and move for a minute each hour during the day as a way to kick-start their daily exercise. irishheart.ie/campaigns/escape-your-chair

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