Scared to move after your heart attack? You’re not alone. Around 1 in 5 people who have had a heart attack are cautious, and even fearful, of physical activity and exercise [Reference 1].
Having a heart attack is a traumatic experience – both physically and mentally. It’s normal to feel worried, tired, angry, upset and sad after a heart attack. Usually these feelings get better after a few weeks. However, for some people they stick around a little longer.
We know exercise is good for us – but how do you know if you’re doing too much? Or not enough?
What happens in our body during exercise?
When we start exercising, or moving more (gardening, housework, walking the dog), our muscles need more oxygen and nutrients so they can do more work. To do this, we breath deeper and faster to take in more oxygen from the air.
Next, our hearts need to move the blood (with the extra oxygen and nutrients) around the body faster and to the muscles that need it. So, our heart beats faster and stronger. How much this increases depends on:
- What you’re doing – how much blood you need
- How fit you are – how well your heart and blood vessels can move blood around your body
- What medications you are taking – some medications try to keep your heart rate and blood pressure lower
As our muscles use energy to create more movement, they create heat as well. So, you might also feel warmer while you move. This is a normal result of your muscles working harder and having blood moving around your body faster. In response to feeling warmer, you might also notice red flushed skin and sweating. This is how your body keeps you from overheating.
So, during exercise you breathe faster, your heart beats faster and you might sweat. Sound familiar? These feelings can remind you of your heart attack which can lead to you avoiding activities (even if you previously enjoyed them).
Tips to help you cope with, or overcome, your fear of movement
Start small and build gradually
You could start with 5 minutes walks, working 2 half days per week or doing 2 minutes of vacuuming on a smooth surface. It should feel easy and comfortable to begin with. Then slowly increase the time you spend on each activity. Again, keep it comfortable. As you become more confident, you can push a bit harder. Think of your recovery more like a marathon than a sprint. Good things take time.
When you start exercising again, take your GTN spray (in case you get chest pain), a phone, your asthma puffer (if you need it) and stay close to home. As you get fitter and more confident, you can start slowly pushing your limits. Try walking a limited further or faster one day and see how you feel for the rest of the day and the next day. All good? Keep going. Any concerns? Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.
Get your family / friends involved
Having someone come with you to appointments or assessments can be good for both you and your spouse, family and friends. That way everyone knows what’s going on and can ask questions. When you all have a clear sense of direction and what you can and can’t do, everyone feels calmer and you have more support along your recovery.
You can also exercise or walk with a friend or family member – this can be good for both of you and help you feel safer.
Attend cardiac rehab
Going to a cardiac rehab program is probably one of the best things to help you get your groove back. You start with a supervised exercise test, complete your own training program (specific to your needs and wants), learn how to safely increase your exercise and you get to be around others who have been through similar experiences. Together, these can help you feel fitter, stronger and more confident.
Relearning what you are capable of after a heart attack takes time and experience. Give yourself mini-goals to work on. Start by making them so ridiculously easy you can achieve them with almost no effort. Then slowly make them more difficult as you become fitter, stronger and more confident.
Still unsure where to start? Contact us to chat about your options and we can guide you on the right (easy, simple and fun) path.
Need help or guidance? Book in for a one-on-one consultation with us to find out what’s best for you and your health.
Can’t get to us? Read our Telehealth Blog to find out if this option suits you better.