It’s not exactly breaking news, but getting active and achieving a level of fitness will provide a measure of insurance against suffering heart-related disease. In fact, some are now calling sitting the new smoking when it comes to assessing your risks for a cardiac event. But how should those who have experienced a heart attack or have been diagnosed with heart disease embark on a fitness plan with confidence?
“The very, very, very first thing they should do is go see their doctor and discuss it,” says Paul Adams, Senior Director of Product Management for Philips Lifeline and a cardiothoracic nurse who practiced in the UK. “Any kind of fitness activity should have the blessing of the physician.”
Building Fitness Wisely
Anyone who has suffered cardiac event, has likely received aggressive rehabilitative services to get them on their feet and moving. But it wasn’t always that way, according to Adams.
“Back when, a person who’d suffered a heart attack was in bed for four weeks,” he says. “Now, that person is out of bed the next day and involved in an aggressive rehabilitation program to start building and strengthening muscle.”
However, aggressive doesn’t mean you can immediately jump back into playing a rigorous sport.
There is any number of ways to safely up your daily activity level. Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend starting your exercise program by simply walking — walking the dog, walking around the block or just parking your car further from the door when you go somewhere. Joining a gym may be another option that allows you to continue walking when the weather is bad.
“You also want to be thoughtful about how your body is responding to exercise,” says Adams. “If you experience shortness of breath or discomfort, you should stop immediately and get help.”
Some suggestions for fitting more exercise into your day might be:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Take a walking break instead of a snack break
- Stretch periodically when sitting
Joining a walking group or a dance class not only benefits your physical body; it also provides a social aspect to your routine. Engaging with peers and family while walking can make exercising more fun, provide important family time, and lift the spirits.
How Caregivers Can Help
Caregivers can play an important role in making sure their elderly relative gets the exercise they need. They can start by sitting in with their parent during a visit to the doctor to learn what type and how much exercise they should aim for, says Mark Sabalauskas, Product Manager at Philips Lifeline.
“This allows the caregiver to find out from the horse’s mouth what will be involved, and that person can share this information with all family members so they can help keep the parent on track and doing the right things,” Sabalauskas says.
But to ensure they can help their relative, Sabalauskas cautions, caregivers must also consider their own physical — and mental — health, and find time for themselves to stay fit and wind down. A family caregiver spends, on average, 24 hours a week caring for an elderly parent, according to the National Alliance on Caregiving.
“Since most of these caregivers have full-time jobs and a third has children, it is little wonder that 55 percent of them report feeling overwhelmed,” he says.
If a parent self-limits his or her activity out of fear of not being able to get help if needed, the solution could be a medical alert device. Philips Lifeline offers various medical alert solutions can enable someone in need to access a Response Associate for help at the push of a button. And AutoAlert fall detection offers extra protection, automatically calling for help if it detects a fall, even in the wearer cannot or forgets to push the button1.