How To Exercise With a Heart Valve Disease

The heart is a complex organ with a series of chambers, valves, and vessels that work together to keep blood circulating continuously through the body. With the heart’s complexity comes the potential for problems, and one common problem of the heart has to do with its built-in system of one-way valves.

The heart contains four major one-way valves — the tricuspid valve, pulmonary valve, mitral valve, and aortic valve. Each valve ensures that blood moves in one continuous motion through the chambers of the heart with each contraction. When these valves are impaired, it can lead to a backflow of blood, which can harm cardiac efficiency and cardiovascular health.

Some common heart valve problems that can result in regurgitation and the backflow of blood include aortic stenosis, mitral valve prolapse, pulmonic stenosis, and valvular heart disease. These conditions may be helped by valve repair or valve replacement surgery but typically require an interplay of medical intervention and positive lifestyle choices such as exercise.

Exercising with heart valve disease (HVD) has special considerations, and below is a closer look at some things you should consider as well as some good exercises you can do with HVD.

1. Consult Your Doctor Before Exercising

Before beginning any exercise program, it is essential to consult with your doctor. A cardiologist or primary care doctor will be best equipped to provide you with the types and intensity of exercise that are safe for you.

The last thing you would want to do is to put work and effort toward improving your physical health only to find out later that you shouldn’t have been doing a certain type of activity.

A doctor consult is also essential to enrolling in a cardiac rehab program. If your healthcare provider believes you to be a good candidate for cardiac rehab, they can refer you to a cardiac rehabilitation program for further guidance and support.

2. Know Your Limits

It is important to understand your limitations and not push yourself too hard. Physical activity should be enjoyable and sustainable, not a source of stress or discomfort. Start with low-intensity activities and gradually increase the intensity and duration as your fitness level improves.

The key is to listen to the signs your body is giving you and to not overexert yourself to the point of causing potential harm. If you are enrolled in a cardiac rehab program, an exercise physiologist can monitor your vital signs and ensure they stay within a safe range for your specific valve disease.

If you experience any symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations, stop the activity immediately and seek medical attention, as it could be an indication that your heart is in distress.

3. Always Warm Up

Warming up before exercise is essential for preparing your body for physical activity and reducing the risk of injury. A good warm-up should last about five to 10 minutes and include light cardio exercises such as walking or cycling at a slow pace. This helps to increase blood flow to your muscles and to prepare your heart for the increased activity to follow.

Warming up is especially important for individuals with heart valve issues as these conditions may lower heart rate variability (HRV), which is a measure of time variability between heartbeats. A higher HRV means that the body can adapt more readily to changes of the body, such as starting exercise. Lower HRV means there may be somewhat of a delay in this response, which is why warming up slowly before workouts is ideal for those with valve issues.

4. Ease Into Things

Starting an exercise program can be challenging, especially if you have been inactive for a long time. The most successful workout programs are those that ease into it rather than trying to do too much too soon.

Starting with short, simple exercises and gradually increasing the duration and intensity is a much more sustainable approach. Easing into your program can help reduce the risk of injury and make sure you maintain an active lifestyle in the long term.

5. Monitor Your Breathing

The lungs and heart are closely tied, and an issue with the heart, such as a heart valve problem or heart failure, can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath and difficulty performing daily tasks without becoming winded.

Monitoring your breathing while exercising can be an important telltale sign of how well your heart works and whether you should ease up on an exercise or stop. Stop the activity immediately if you feel short of breath or experience chest discomfort.

If you are a part of a cardiac or pulmonary rehab program, an exercise physiologist can help guide you through exercises while monitoring vital signs and ensuring your respiratory effort is adequate.

6. Cool Down at the End of a Session

A cool-down is just as important as a warm-up as it helps to gradually decrease your heart rate and blood pressure back to a resting state. A cool-down should last five to 10 minutes and include light cardio exercises such as walking or cycling.

Throwing in some stretches after a workout can be another way to make the most of your cool-down. Since your muscles are already warmed up and have good blood flow, it can be an ideal time to stretch. This will help to bring your body back to its resting state while working on your flexibility which can help to reduce the risk of injury.

What Are Some Good Exercises If You Have a Heart Valve Disease?

Heart valve disease can make having an active lifestyle more difficult but keeping up with your cardiovascular health is key for reducing the likelihood of more severe heart complications and retaining a good quality of life. Walking this fine line between too much and too little cardiovascular exercise can be difficult, and this is where cardiac rehabilitation can be helpful.

Choosing the types of exercise for you and your situation can be difficult, and a cardiac rehab program can help you choose the best exercise for your specific needs. Carda Health is a virtual cardiac rehab provider that works to improve your cardiovascular health through tailored exercises and positive lifestyle modifications.

A team of exercise physiologists can look at your given heart valve disease, your current fitness level, and your tolerance to exercise to create an exercise program just for you. Whether you have heart valve disease, recently recovered from a heart attack, or have heart failure, virtual cardiac rehab with Carda Health may be right for you.

Below is a closer look at some exercises you could expect from a cardiac rehab program for individuals with heart valve disease.

Cycling

Cycling is a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints and can provide an effective cardiovascular workout. Whether you cycle indoors with a stationary bike or go out on a bike ride, cycling is a fun aerobic exercise that can help improve your cardiovascular health, leg muscle strength, and overall fitness level.

Walking

Walking is a simple and effective exercise that can be done anywhere, at any time, without equipment. Walking utilizes a wide array of muscles throughout your body and provides light cardiovascular strain, which tends to be well tolerated by cardiac patients and can, over time, improve cardiovascular health.

You don’t need to hike 20 miles a day to see results. Simply finding the time in your day to walk a little more or fitting in some brisk walking can benefit your cardiovascular health and endurance.

Yoga and Stretching

Yoga and stretching can help to improve your flexibility, balance, and overall well-being. In addition to providing a good stretch, yoga can have a calming effect on the mind and help reduce stress. Yoga and stretching exercises are low-impact and can be modified to suit your fitness level and any limitations caused by your heart valve disease.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, heart valve disease (HVD) is a condition that has very specific considerations regarding what exercises you should and shouldn’t try. A physician can make general recommendations, but a cardiac rehab program is well-equipped to provide valuable exercise guidance and monitoring to ensure you are safely working within the limits of your heart.

Carda Health takes this one step further and provides you with virtual remote monitoring during exercise, which provides you even more autonomy while still being able to ensure your vitals are within their limits.

Sources:

Heart Valve Problems and Causes | American Heart Association (AHA)

Valvular Heart Disease | American College of Cardiology (ACC)

Factors influencing heart rate variability in patients with severe aortic valve disease | NCBI

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