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Running with a heart condition

Good morning and happy Wednesday! I can't believe we are more than half way through November already. Oh and apparently there are only 5 Mondays until Christmas. Who's counting! There are a few problems with this:

A) I haven't bought any presents yet
B) I have no idea what to buy
C) When I did attempt to go shopping the other day I wandered aimlessly not having any inspiration at all.

There must be something to be said about last minute shopping panic mode - it forces you to get your act together! Anyway I'm off tonight for a special 20% off sale at a big department store nearby - let's hope there's hardly anyone there and I don't end up simply buying things for myself.....Fat chance of either happening?!

I digress. This week I want to talk all about running. As you may know, I love running. Having done a few marathons, a lot of trots down the river and back and a few ParkRuns(check it out if you haven't heard of it - BRILLIANT free run every Saturday morning all around the world!).

Running when you have a heart condition can be scary, overwhelming and something that you may think can never happen again. However this isn't the case. If you have been given the ok from your consultant to exercise again, there is no reason that you can't safely build up your fitness (both body and heart) to be able to jog/run again. So you may not be the fastest anymore (who needs to be) but if it's what you enjoy, then let's try to get back out there!

The below also applies if you haven't exercised for a while and would like to ease back into running.

By the way, don't forget to join my brand new group - Healthy Hearties! It has tips/advice/feedback from others who have a heart or health condition. We've almost got 100 members already in just 2 weeks! 

Below I've put the key things to focus on when getting back into running with a heart condition. Remember to always check with your doctor to find out what level of exercise is safe for you.

The following tips are relevant to anyone who would like to improve their running, for those who do and don't have a heart condition. After all, training smarter can definitely help us all!

The below focuses on an aerobic workout. This means that you body is able to use oxygen as it's fuel source. This allows enough oxygen to get to your muscles without reducing the oxygen available to the heart (our main priority).

If you feel out of breath, have any sensation of pain or feel uncomfortable, please slow down, rest and either try another time or see your doctor for more advice.

1.  Always perform a warm up - this applies to walking as an exercise as well as running. To do a proper warm up:

  • Allow at least 10-15 minutes at the beginning of your workout.
  • Start out at a slow walking pace - slower than your normal walking speed (or start by marching on the spot).
  • After about 5 minutes, bring the speed up to your normal (comfortable) walking speed.
  • After 10 minutes, begin to walk at a faster pace, slighter faster than before.
  • After 15 minutes, walk at a faster speed and swing your arms in exaggerated movements by your sides.  You are now ready to begin the jogging section (or stick with the faster walking speed until you feel ready to add some jogging in).

2.  Watch your intensity. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Do the talk test - at the beginning of your warm up you should be able to talk in full sentences.
  • By the end of your warm up, you should still be able to have a conversation and be able to say 7-8 words at a time without pausing for breath.
  • For the jogging component you should be able to say at least 5-6 words without pausing for breath (we are focusing on aerobic exercise so will not be pushing it any harder than this). If you are alone try singing to make sure you aren't working too hard!
  • Get a heart rate monitor. These can act as a great tool to monitor the intensity of your workout. Your individual heart rate is based on your age, medications and genetics so I can't give you the exact heart rate to target. As a rough guide, your heart rate at the end of your warm up, when you are feeling like you are working fairly hard but can still say at least 5-6 words, is about 60% (6/10 effort) of your maximum heart rate zone. Ideally you wouldn't go above 70% (7/10 effort) when you are working aerobically as this starts to reduce the oxygen available. Here is the one that I use with all of my one to one clients: Polar FT7 or Polar FT4. If you want one that does the distance travelled it will need to have a GPS and thus becomes more expensive. Here is a Garmin one that is highly rated.

3.   Build up the jogging gradually. If you haven't run for a while, you will need to start with a walk/jog/walk method. Here's how:

  • Complete your 15 minute warm up.
  • When you feel ready, start your first jog. It doesn't matter how fast it is, just pick the feet up and move a bit quicker than your walk. It is better to start out slow than to sprint and run out of energy. You are aiming to work at about 6-7/10 (10 being an all out sprint).
  • Aim for 20-30 seconds of jogging.
  • Slow back down to a walk and recover until you feel ready to jog again. This may take a few minutes, so take as long as you need.
  • Repeat. For your first few jogs, you may want to stick with 2 or 3 jogging sets. Build it up gradually over the weeks.
  • Eventually, you will feel more comfortable to increase the amount of time jogging and reduce the amount of time walking in between. There is no rush to do this, only when you feel ready.
  • Your goal is to complete slightly more each week, unless you are feeling unwell, tired etc. In which case it is better to complete the exercise walking and get some rest, coming back out when you feel better.
  • For some their goal may be to be able to jog for 5 minutes without stopping. Others may want to build up to running 5km, 10km etc. It is all dependent on your personal goals and how able your heart is to cope with the increased demands. For some their fitness will increase very gradually, other may see an improvement quite quickly.

4.  Stay close to home. This means that if you get tired you are never too far away. Also, tell someone what your plans are and what route you plan to go.

5.  Always cool down. Take at least 10-15 minutes to reverse the warm up - start by walking briskly at the end of your jogging, gradually slowing the pace until you are walking very slowly by the time you finish. This is a crucial step that is often overlooked. It is essential to ensure that blood in the muscles is returned to the circulation, waste products created from the muscles are moved into the lymph to be cleared and to return the heart rate towards its resting rate gradually, helping to prevent arrhythmias. 

6.  Stretch!!!  Often forgotten, never should be. Stretching helps to release the muscle fibres that have tightened whilst you were exercising. This helps to reduce muscle soreness and prevent injury the next time you exercise.

Don't exercise if you:

  1. Feel unwell
  2. Have a fever
  3. Have very high blood pressure - it needs to be under control/treated first
  4. Have unstable angina
  5. Are waiting for test results or treatment

All of the above is based on an average. Please do get in touch if you'd like more information specific to you. Don't forget to ask your doctor for clearance before starting any new exercise programme.

Kind regards,

Angela Hartley

Cardiac Specialist Nurse, Exercise Coach

Please note that the information provided is a guide only and does not take into account your individual circumstances. Please seek advice from a medical professional before commencing any exercise programme or new diet.

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