Exercise and the Woman's Heart
Quite simply, exercise can be a lifesaver for women with heart disease. Your heart is a muscle. Like any muscle, it becomes stronger with exercise and pumps blood through the arteries to the body more efficiently. At the same time, exercise also improves the performance of the muscles in the rest of your body. Research shows that the specific benefits of regular exercise include:
For women with cardiovascular disease it is necessary to achieve reasonable exercise goals, appropriate pre-participation screening, and explicit advice about your exercise program. Supervised cardiac rehabilitation is considered standard care in the treatment of people with heart disease. Unfortunately, it is estimated that as few as 15 percent of eligible women are referred to these programs.
When beginning an exercise program:
How Much Exercise is Enough
Proper exercise intensity is one that will result in favorable fitness changes and other cardiovascular benefits. Three tools are available to help you know if the exercise intensity or effort is right for you.
Heart Rate (or pulse)
While exercising, be aware of the increase that occurs in your heart and breathing rates. If you are part of a cardiac rehabilitation program, a target heart rate will likely be prescribed for you. Learn to monitor your pulse rate accurately using the following method: Hold your hand with the palm facing up and place the first two fingers of your other hand on the thumb side of your wrist. Alternatively, you can raise your chin slightly and gently place your first two fingers over a blood vessel in your neck. Press gently and count the number of beats you feel for a period of 10 seconds. Multiply the number of beats by six to find your heart rate in beats per minute (e.g., 20 beats in 10 seconds = 120 beats per minute).
Rating of Perceived Exertion
Work out at a level that is between "fairly light" to "somewhat hard." You may be sweating and breathing hard but not gasping for breath.
During exercise, you should be able to carry on a conversation. If you cannot do this, you are probably pushing too hard and should slow your exercise pace.
Warming Up and Cooling Down
The purpose of the warm-up phase is to prepare the body for exercise and for you to exercise safely. A proper warm up should result in a gradual rise in body temperature, raise your heart rate within 20 beats per minute of your prescribed target heart rate, and improve blood flow to the muscles. Perform at least 5 to 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise, such as slow walking. Be aware of your posture. Let your arms swing freely at your sides, taking easy strides, and breathe normally.
This is the period immediately following the conditioning or "dynamic" exercise. The primary purpose of the cool down is to return your heart rate gradually to its pre-exercise level. Spend 5 to 10 minutes performing low-level activity, such as slow walking. You may want to end the cool-down period with stretching activities.
Exercise Warning Signs
Listen to your body! You should stop or avoid exercising if:
If you develop discomfort, heaviness, or tightness in your chest or arms, call your doctor right away. If you develop a cold sweat, extreme breathlessness, palpitations or faintness, call your doctor right away.
Center for Women's Cardiovascular Health