In the last post, I talked about the importance of exercising. Specifically, I discussed the various types of exercises a heart failure patient can do that will provide cardio benefits, improve strength, endurance and flexibility, and just put us in a better, resilient frame of mind.
But as a heart failure patient, I cannot ignore the fact that extreme weather can impact one's ability to exercise. In the summer, those dreaded H's known as heat and humidity can make it difficult for a heart failure patient to get in some of the cardio exercises that can strengthen the heart. Bummer – what is an obsessive exercise to do?
First let’s talk about the impact heat and humidity has on one’s heart. According to the American Heart Association, if you’re a heart patient older than 50 you might need to take special precautions in the heat. Some of the medications you take, such as beta blockers, ace receptor blockers, ace inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics (which deplete the body of sodium) can exaggerate the body’s response to heat. This means it is probably a recipe for disaster when a heart patient on any of these medications goes outside in hot and humid weather to perform cardio exercises.
So when does the temperature and the humidity reach a point where they start to matter for heart patients? I found this helpful information from the Seconds Count website (a project of the Society for Angiography and Interventions): “When the temperature reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) and the humidity is 70 percent or higher, your heart has to begin to work harder just to cool your body. When the outdoor temperature climbs into the 80s (Fahrenheit) or high 20s (Celsius) or beyond and there is high humidity, the risk to your health also rises. If you have heart disease, it is especially critical that you avoid exercising when the temperature and the humidity are both high. Consider delaying any intense exercise until the temperature has dropped and the humidity has reduced, or consider doing your doctor-approved exercise where the weather won’t be a problem, such as in air conditioning.”
So this is another time when flexibility becomes critical. In my case, I have gotten into the habit of exercising in the fitness room in my building first thing in the morning. Once I finish, I go back to my condo and do some endurance and resistance exercises. In the late morning and early afternoon, I try to go outside for a couple of walks. But when the humidity and heat are in the ranges listed above, I have found it is best to get any outdoor walks done before noon and then stay in the air conditioning for the rest of the day. I prefer the option of walking later in the day. But if it means that getting the oxygen to my heart pump is harder, than I will flip the schedule rather than freak out my heart.
So what does it feel like to breathe when you are exerting yourself outside and it is humid? In two words: Freaking Awful! Of course, before I was a heart failure patient I never noticed the impact that humidity had on my ability to breathe. In fact, even the first year or two of heart failure, I didn’t notice it as much. But especially this year, I have noticed how heavy the air is when it is humid. And all I can think of is this cartoon of my heart glaring at me as the humid summer air finds its way to the door step of my heart. My heart rolls its eyes and says: "Does this woman think I am a Freaking Weightlifter? How does she expect me to lift and pump this heavy air through the heart and out through her muscles?”
I found some tips on various websites to help those of us with heart failure adjust to exercise when it is warm. The ones I quote here are tips that are either perhaps challenging but necessary to do, or that just would not have occurred to me. These are from the Seconds Count website unless otherwise noted:
When the weather is really hot and sticky and miserable, you will likely have no choice but to be held captive in your home. But do not treat the term captive in the exercise department like it is a synonym for powerless. Even if you do not have a fitness room in your home, you can still maintain your fitness. Now is the perfect time to try out some of those resistance, endurance, flexibility or strength training exercises we covered in the last post. You may not be able to open the door and walk into the fresh air – but you can log onto the internet and find instructions for Yoga, Pilates or core exercises. (Note: If you’re going to take me up on this plan of action, you might want to go out now and buy the appropriate equipment like exercise mats, yoga blocks, free weights, etc.).
You can also engage in core exercises. So what is a core exercise? The Mayo Clinic page devoted to healthy lifestyle says: “Core-strength exercises strengthen your core muscles, including your abdominal muscles, back muscles and muscles around the pelvis. Strong core muscles make it easier to do many physical activities.” Hot, humid days are a bummer because you may not be able to do your cardio in the beautiful outdoors. But think of it this way – you can engage in core exercises inside and build up your endurance so that you have the ability to engage in cardio exercises ootside once the weather is decent. Seems like a winning proposition to me. Some core exercises that I do: About four variations of the plank exercise, the bridge, exercises using a fitness ball, and the Pilates 100.
If you live near an indoor shopping mall, you can check and see how early they open and see if it is permissible to walk through the floors of the shopping mall. Mall walking became popular a number of years ago, and is listed as a recommended activity on the Go4Life page of the National Institute on Aging for NIH. The site lists a number of reasons why mall walking is a good activity: the security staff in the mall make it a safe place to walk; malls are pedestrian friendly, you don't need any special equipment, all ages are welcome, etc.
Back at your home, the availability of DVDs, apps on your phones, or programs on your cable television enables you to find a class or examples of cardio exercises to do inside your home. As I was writing this post, I googled the term "cardio exercise at home" and found a variety of cardio exercises, complete with written instructions and pictures. The beauty of using the web to do cardio is that the selection of exercises is unlimited. So you can design your own routine, being selective about how vigorous you want the exercises to be. If it turns out that a particular move doesn’t work, just edit it out and substitute another one. How great is that!
If figuring out a cardio routine using technology is too taxing for you, then just crank up some tunes with your iPhone or iPod and have a Dance Party! All you need to do is incorporate a variety of free style dancing moves. What is free style dancing? According to the website Dance Director:
To sum it all up, exercise, especially of a cardio nature, is still a recommended practice for heart failure patients. The patient just needs to take care that (1) the cardio level does not overwhelm the heart, and (2) he or she stays away from an environment filled with heat and humidity. As you can see from this post, you have a lot of options.
So there is no need to panic when the weather forecasters are filling the airwaves with doom and gloom about weather alerts and warnings about heat stroke. Because not only can you get a good workout in, you can also add some moves to your routine that might even prove to be more energizing for your heart!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.