British Heart Foundation

When can I get back to my normal level of exercising?

I'm 66, and I was really healthy. A month ago I ran six days a week - at least 10k a day. I also went to to the gym three or four days a week to do resistance training. Then I had a heart attack followed immediately by three cardiac arrests. Thanks to the very prompt action of my wife in calling an ambulance, and the ambulance in getting to me within minutes, I am still here to tell the tale. I have had a stent and an ICD fitted.

I have been told that if I wasn't so healthy, I wouldn't have survived.

I am now very keen to get back to my exercising, but I am getting conflicting advice as to how quickly, and how much exercising I should do. I obviously don't want to do anything to endanger myself, but I am itching to get my running shoes on again. At the moment, I am just walking 4 or 5k a day.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to how much I can safely do. I actually feel fine, and i have been told that I don't have any underlying problems.

39 Replies
oldestnewest

Hi

I am sure there will be more expert opinions forthcoming, but I was advised to rest for a month i.e. next to no exercise other than gentle day to day stuff around the house. It was stressed to me that this period of healing was very important post heart attack. I was made to understand that no matter good how I felt that I should not do more than I was advised in this initial period i.e. more was not better!

After the 'rest period' I attended Cardiac Rehab and escalated my activity under qualified advice - I am certainly now more active than ever and progressively returned to cycling and scuba diving for example, so there is clearly a way forward.

Beyond your current walking, that I think is good gentle exercise, I think you really need to get specific advice from your medical advisors as they alone know of your diagnosis and current abilities. For example, your regime of 10k six days a week would likely not work for many on here!!!

2 likes
Reply

Thanks for your response. I understand in theory about not overdoing it, but I have just come back from my daily 5k walk, and I feel completely 'normal'. I don't feel tired or out of breath. When I was doing my running, once a week I would do a long run - 20 or 30k, and I never felt out of breath doing that, so I am finding it difficult to gauge what is too much now. But I don't want to put myself into jeopardy, hence my caution.

Reply

Blimmy 5k a day, that is pretty good already.

Glad to read you are doing really well and there is loads of positivity going on there.

I think as long as you feel ok in yourself the 5k if not more is perfectly fine. However I wouldn't go walking too fast, you don't want to overwork the heart muscle too soon, try not to burn out too soon. Possitive is fantastic, but prepare yourself that it is early days and you may just as easily get your bad days.

Step by step is the attitude.

Have you attended cardiac rehab. Do you evan know about this aftercare support from most cardiac units?

If not I would talk to your Gp or practice nurse about this.

You see, rehab can give you so much information and confidence on the dos and don'ts after HA, CA, or any other heart related issues.

It just makes you feel safe in the knowledge that you know what you as an indervigual, is capable if doing.

Good luck with everything, keep up the good work of positivity.

Take care, Jo 😊😊

1 like
Reply

Thanks for your reply and your good wishes. I have got a cardiac rehab session booked for next week, so I will undoubtedly learn more then. I am just interested to hear the views of people who have been through the same as me.

Because I am new to this heart attack/cardiac arrest lark I am learning all the time, and I am keen to learn. I really have been so impressed by the kindness, consideration and professionalism of all the medical staff that I have been in contact with. The NHS is great!

I used to be morbidly obese, and have diabetes and depression. I decided to control my diet and to exercise, and in ten months I lost ten stone. It took me three months to cure my diabetes and depression, so I am a great believer in mind over matter, and my ability to make a change. I suspect that my heart attack/cardiac arrests were due my previous abuse of my body, so while being aware of the need to not overdo it it, I really want to get back to my healthy state.

1 like
Reply

Well your achievements are absolutely amazing. You should be very proud of yourself.

However, as much as you want to get back to it, you really do have to he careful on the speed you do this.

At the moment you can do as much walking as your body can take.

The issue is you learning just what that is.

Now because you lost the weight and concurred your depression and diabetics so fast. You obviously feel you can do the same and at the same pace with your heart muscle.

I am afraid you would be wrong on this one.

Like I said above, your heart muscle needs to be treated with great care and respect.

The respect is knowing and realising that as the most important muscle in your body. Your heart has been through a huge trauma. Such a trauma that it can take quite a long time to completely heal.

It is the same old case of just because you can't see the injury, it doesn't mean it isn't there.

If you broke your arm or leg, then you would be reminded every day that you need to take care and alow it to heal. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to lift with your arm or walk with your leg again without it breaking or letting you down again.

Right this is a very long lecture to say evan though it is wonderful you are so positive on getting on with it. And evan though you feel fairly strong and up for more. Please understand it is still very early days for your healing heart to take on too much. Please don't lift heavy or walk too fast at least until you have been to rehab next week.

They are medically trained to access you while you exorcise.

They can teach you your personal limatations, as we all progress at different stages.

I have a feeling you will progress well quite quickly. But just be patient for now until you see the professionals.

Enjoy your weekend now and keep us in the know of how you are getting on 😊😊😊

3 likes
Reply

Thanks so much for your sensible advice.

1 like
Reply

Hi my situation is slightly different in that I had a bypass and a valve replacement, I ran regularly before it and had no symptoms. After the op in Aug 2016 I would walk each day an then started running quite slowly after 3 months. I now run 3 times a week and my weekly 5k Park Run is faster than it was 5 years ago. Good luck and maybe try a gentle jog once a week and build it up slowly. Good luck John

Reply

The day before my heart attack I did my weekly Parkrun and I did it in my slowest time - which at the time I put down to the really muddy conditions. Now I know better!

Well done on being faster now. Thanks for your good advice.

Reply

You have to remember that a month ago you had a heart attack. You may well feel fine but it was only a month ago! Recovery from a heart attack is a marathon not a sprint. Its better to get there slowly than to another HA quickly. Walking 4-5k a day is a pretty good going. It may be small compared to where you were but its still a decent amount so soon after your heart attack.

I assume you will be offered Cardiac Rehab classes - even if you do not get a lot out of it, they will at least provide some medically sound guidance. The best advice I got was 'listen to your body' but I'm guessing your HA came without warning, so I'd be a little mindful of that piece of advice. My advice would be to continue with the walking and add a little bit more a little bit at a time - work your way up slowly and if you get any pain STOP!

Good luck

Steve

Reply

Thanks so much for your very good advice.

Reply

I second everything said above. But be patient, you will get back to normal and in my case, (I am six months post valve replacement and only really just feeling the benefit) I am currently the best I have been in over 3/4 of a decade literally can not believe how easy I am finding it to run.

However just one thought, the first thing I found striking was the amount of running you did pre-heart attack. May I suggest that you watch the following video. It is a talk on sensible exercise by a cardiologist from the US:

While I can not comment on the credentials of the presenter, I have read some of the original studies referenced in his speech and there is a growing body of evidence that supports what he is saying about the fact that exercise unsurprisingly behaves much like a drug. Most people do not do enough to gain the benefits hence asking patients to do more, but... (and I am guilty of this) there are people at the other end who would benefit from less exercise.

1 like
Reply

Really interesting. Thanks for posting this. Of course, heart muscle dies when you have a heart attack, so ‘getting back to normal’ is not an option. Being realistic, we can get back to exercising, but we’re in a ‘new’ state. Not too different, one hopes, but this video shows you it’s worth judging it carefully.

1 like
Reply

Yes, that's interesting. I've heard about overworking the heart before - but I have also seen reports refuting it. I will be the first to admit - for me - exercising is/was a drug, and on reflection - now I have had a chance to reflect - that I will reassess how much I will be doing. It will almost certainly be less. Short walks are all I can manage at the moment, so when I am able, I will build it up, but only to a certain level.

Reply

I’ve been told walking is fine as much as u want and build ur stamina up.

Reply

Hi,

See if your local NHS run a cardio rehab clinic. I was quite fit but then diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy. I was nervous about pushing myself physically but attended six weeks of Cardio Rehab and feel so much better about doing more exercise. Obviously the level of exertion depends on your condition but the brilliant physios who took this class were there to check heart rate and monitor your blood pressure.

Reply

I've got my first appointment booked on Wednesday, and I'm really looking forward to hearing their advice.

Reply

Having been at a good level of fitness before your issue I would imagine you will be pushed a lot harder than most. Don't be surprised to find yourself doing more than others, its going to give you a great idea of where you are now.

Good luck Mark

1 like
Reply

Hi buddy, without wanting to sound too negative or go against the grain here but what the hell are you thinking mate? You are 66 and obviously very fit but you had a heart attack and you had it for a reason.

If you’ve lived a healthy lifestyle I can only presume it’s in your genes so you should think long and hard about taking chances with your body from here on.

Aren’t you even a little worried about it happening again? What if something happens when you’re out on a long run?

I get the “wanting to get back to normal” thing - that’s what I wanted to do, but why push yourself to your limit? I know we are all different and some are more willing to take chances than others but I think you need a bit of a reality check mate.

A heart attack and three cardiac arrests is perhaps, your body saying it can’t cope anymore, slow down, take it easy now.

Just my pennies worth mate and I’m glad you’re feelin as well as you do. I wish you the best in your recovery.

Regards

David

3 likes
Reply

Thanks for your sensible advice and best wishes. If you see my reply to Midgeymoo17, you'll see that I have decided to reassess what I do, and to listen to the Cardiac Rehab team when I see them on Wednesday.

Reply

That’s a good thing. I haven’t been to the rehab myself yet and I’m 10 months post HA. I felt pretty good for the first month and was itching to get back to normal and then the meds side effects kicked in and I didn’t feel too great for a month or two. Then the mind stuff started and messed me up for a while. Just got back from a big long haul holiday in SE Asia which was a mental and physical challenge but it went well and boosted my confidence. I’m feeling like my old self again (not the young fit one - more the old lazy one lol). So the recovery has been a bit of a journey for me - as it usually is for most people. I’m giving myself a year of slow recovery before trying to recover my fitness and stamina. I just don’t want to take any chances personally.

Reply

It's interesting to hear what you've been through. I have gone from taking no meds to what seems like a bucketful now. I'm not sure how much they effect me mentally and/or physically, but I certainly don't feel like I used to.

Pysychologically I do feel a bit messed up, which I wasn't expecting. I used to be very positive, and now I feel a bit...confused. In what way were you messed up mentally?

I used to control what I ate quite carefully, but now I'm eating more than I used to and not exercising, so I'm now feeling like a lazy slob. It is only a month since my HA/CA, so I expect I will go through more changes.

Reply

I'm on the usual cocktail I think... Aspirin 75mg, Atorvastatin 80mg, Bisoprolol 2.5mg, Candesartan 2mg, Ticagrelor 90mg. They definitely affected me for a while but then my body got used to them. The only side effects I get now that I'm aware of are achy joints from time to time - especially when it's cold, I also feel the cold now whereas I never use to. And i find I'm a bit short tempered now.

Psychologically I was on a downer after the heart attack, which again is normal apparently. Hence the need to want to get back to "normal" - both physically and mentally. The physical side is pretty straight forward as you just need to follow the exercise procedures etc but the mental side can be a bit more tricky - well that's what I found anyway.

I would lie in bed at night with my wife and feel my heart beating and skipping around all over the place and I'd feel this overwhelming sense of doom.. like something terrible is going to happen. It would raise my anxiety levels to the point where I'd start sweating and my blood pressure would go up... then I'd start thinking I'm going to have another heart attack! I even called an ambulance a couple of times. Nothing bad ever came of them though but they were very unsettling.

I went to see a therapist for a while (privately) but I'm not sure that really helped, though I can see why the doctors recommend it.

I have a beautiful wife and three young children and I was 48 when I had my HA. Way too young everyone says. So my mortality was always on my mind quite simply because I didn't want to die and leave my family on their own. That's a stress I now live with whereas death is usually the furthest from our minds isn't it?

I was staying at a hotel up a mountain in Borneo a few weeks ago and I couldn't sleep. I was pacing around and feeling really agitated. Then i realised it was because of how isolated we were and that it would take hours for an ambulance to reach me and further still to get me to the hospital if anything went wrong. This is the kind of thing I'm on about and it takes a while to get you're head around stuff like that.

I know how this sounds, but truthfully, I began to feel a lot better in my head when I started to pray and I returned to church. I became a Christian when i was 15 mate, but turned away from it all as I got into my 20s. I never stopped believing in God though and he's had his hand on me all my life. I could have died several times from various things but this heart attack acted as a bit of a wake up call for me.

I know the religious thing isn't everyones cup of tea but it works for me. Some listen to relaxing tapes and try meditation etc and that works for them. But now whenever I feel my heart tripping or I start feeling anxious, I pray and it all subsides pretty quickly. Or I read my Bible or listen to some Christian songs. I feel pretty good these days and a lot more like my old self. Everyone started commenting about how well I looked and how happy I seemed again. So something has changed in me.

I hope you don't have to go through the head stuff my friend. If you do and you're struggling, try reciting the Lord's Prayer - it won't do you any harm and might just give your spirit a lift.

Reply

I'm glad for you that your religion has helped you. I am very much an atheist, so that is something I don't have.

For me, it is the change from being completely healthy (or so I thought) to feeling I might be at risk that I find troubling. Though, to be realistic, I am probably less at risk now than I was as I have an ICD fitted. I suppose it is basically that I am now aware that I am mortal that I find disturbing.

1 like
Reply

I had that exact feeling after I had my ICD fitted. I was scared to be in the house/office on my own in case I received a shock. But you're right, once you have an ICD you are instantly less at risk than you were before. I knew this rationally, but it took a while for the emotional side to catch up. Nowadays I do feel very relaxed about my ICD and having it reassures me. I still have the odd moment of panic about ill health and mortality (2am this morning, for instance! ha!) but they are nothing like as all-consuming as they used to be and happen much less frequently. I think time passing helps, but also doing what you can to boost your mental health/happiness, which makes it easier to take a step back, think rationally and see the positives. Hope you start to find things easier soon. Let me know if I can help in any way x

Reply

Many thanks for your kind words and support. It's good to hear that you have come to terms with your ICD. Mine is still a little sore, so I am very conscious of it. I really was very positive and upbeat before, so this uncertainty and this state of waiting to get back to something like what I was is...tricky. I was so used to being in control of my health (or so I thought) that I find this lack of control disturbing.

Reply

Yes, I was the same, had never had more than a handful of GP appointments until I was 31 and got my heart failure diagnosis absolutely out of the blue. It's a big adjustment and you do need to tweak your life, but you will feel more like yourself eventually. The early months (and years) are the hardest but even the fact that you are accessing this forum and acknowledging your feelings shows that you are addressing them and starting on the road towards coming to terms with it all. I'm sure you will come to feel more positive again. Keep in touch! :)

1 like
Reply

Thanks for your encouragement!

1 like
Reply

Yes, there's nothing that makes you feel more mortal than a pounding heartbeat struggling to pump blood around your body! You and I are are still here... many are not so fortunate. This is a gift my friend - nothing random in it :) Good luck with your recovery and hope you get back to running again in due course.

Reply

Hi NineToTheSky

When I joined this forum, I did not think that I would be reading many threads from runners facing challenges like myself.

I believe my situation is not dissimilar to yours, please see below link if you want to read in detail. I thought I did well when I completed 5K run at the end of my rehab sessions whereas you are already step ahead and regularly completing 4 to 5k.

healthunlocked.com/bhf/post...

What this forum has taught me that we may be facing similar challenges but we overcome those challenges differently, it’s down to us as individuals to manage our conditions as best fit possible. We have all the tools/knowledge at our disposal and unfortunately there is no one solution fit us all.

My procedure was carried out almost 8 months ago and I feel that I have made good progress. I am convinced that my pre-process fitness level played a significant part in the recovery process. I am not sure how much of that ‘marathon mentality’ had impacted on me staying positive all along despite having many setbacks.

In the last couple of months, I have extended my runs up to10M (using HR monitor to keep an eye on HR) and I don’t feel any side/after effect. Having said that I feel I am beginning to see a logic in restricting my runs to maximum an hour (10-11K) and during the run I would keep a close eye on HR, ensuring I remain within my target zones. I will probably run 2 to 3 times a week and perhaps add a bike run in-between.

I wish you speedy recovery and look forward to reading about the progress you would make.

Reply

I have been really interested to read your posts. I haven't got time to respond properly this evening, but I will get back to you tomorrow. I am really missing my running, so it is great to meet someone who understands what is to be a runner.

Reply

I have read your posts, and it's encouraging to hear that you are back to running. As you will see from my post below, it's a month since my heart attack, but I don't feel that I am ready to start running again. The 5k I am doing now is walking by the way, not running - yet. But I am absolutely determined to get back to running. It's that goal, that desire, that is keeping me going. Being frail brings me down, but I am sure that I will rebuild myself.

Reply

No worries, you need to take it easy and being a runner you know how to build up endurance and 'listen to your body'.

I agree, a month is perhaps too early to think about running. I took advantage of the rehab sessions and started to run/walk on the mill. I kind of felt that if I were to start running, it probably was the best place to start (controlled environment). In the rehab class when i saw the TM in the corner covered in dust, i could resist the temptation to have a go. I was fortunate that rehab nurse was excellent in supporting me, but they kept a very close eye on me when i was on the mill.

Keep us posted as you make progress, keeping my finger crossed for you.

Reply

Hi, NineToTheSky - my husband had a massive heart attack almost two years ago, was stented, and subsequently had an ICD fitted. He most certainly didn't run 10k a day, or do any resistance training other than driving a 15 ton coach. He, too, survived. I was fascinated by your post, because you would be held up as an example of what we should all be doing in order to avoid the horrific situation in which you've found yourself. The men in the same ward as my husband looked nothing like the "typical" heart attack victim, yet they too had had similar experiences. One had been dealing with a heart condition since his early 30s, one was only 30, another was a former professional cricketer, and the other was a slight, slim man in his early 50s. Then there was my husband, an overweight coach driver who had recently undergone radiotherapy for male breast cancer, an ex-smoker, too. I think that reading your experience goes to show that in fact, there is no "typical" heart attack/heart disease victim. Sometimes, it can really be completely inexplicable. I wish you a very speedy recovery, and I hope very much that you can get back to doing what you clearly enjoy - ensure you follow the advice of your consultants and specialists, though, and recognise that you may have to adjust to something a little less frenetic in future!

Reply

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. I wish your husband all the best.

Yes, I have been surprised how heart problems can affect anyone. Sadly being fit seems to be no protection. I wish I knew what is, and what causes heart problems.

I have just come back from a trip round the supermarket (OK, a big supermarket!), and, frankly, I feel that I have done enough for today. That is something else I don't understand: a month ago I was doing marathons. Today I have the same muscles, the same determination, but something in me isn't playing ball. It's a mystery!

Reply

Indeed, Nine - my husband becomes tired far more quickly, and breathless far more quickly, and another issue he has (and which has hospitalised him twice) is fluid build-up. All of this is because his heart just isn't as efficient as it was, and he has to allow for this now. He has to take water tablets twice a day, which do restrict him as far as getting out and about is concerned, but this does seem to keep the dreaded fluid in check. He has his moments when I know he just wants to shout "Why me??" and who wouldn't want to do that, but he'll then say that he's just very pleased to still be here - it goes without saying that I'm just as pleased about that! It is a matter of learning to adapt, and you are quite right to want to remain as fit as you can - it will just need to be within the revised limits of your heart, and your system as a whole. You've survived and recovered well, and that's amazing in itself.

1 like
Reply

A great thing about this forum, which I hadn't anticipated, is that I am discovering that I am not alone in this. It really is comforting to be able to share with people who have gone through the same as me. One thing that I haven't mentioned is that I, too, had fluid retention that I also had to be hospitalised for! I had no idea that - for two of us at least - that is another issue.

Again, I appreciate your wise words.

1 like
Reply

My husband still has to fully realise that HE is not alone, Nine! He's gradually getting a bit more skilful with the internet (a latecomer!), and when he's more confident, I shall suggest he joins this forum. He's still coming to terms with no longer being able to work, which must hit most people quite hard, especially when it's forced upon them. Thankfully, he has an outrageous sense of humour, and we find plenty to laugh about, which is just about the best medicine.

1 like
Reply

Tell him that I look forward to chatting with him here, and send him my best wishes.

Reply

I certainly shall, Nine!

Reply

You may also like...