Exercise has many benefits, helping to improve your physical and mental wellbeing. But exercising with a heart problem can be worrying if you are unsure of what activities you can safely do without damaging your heart. Our sports cardiologists provide advanced heart checks to determine your level of heart risk with exercise. This helps them develop a personalised exercise plan that is safe, enjoyable and helps meet your fitness goals.

Is it safe to exercise with a heart problem?

Exercising when you know you have a heart problem can be daunting.

Whether you have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease or have a pacemaker fitted, you might be worried that putting too much strain on your heart with exercise can make things worse.

However, studies show that regular exercise has many benefits for people with heart conditions.

Like any other muscle in your body, your heart needs regular exercise to become stronger and healthier.

This helps it pump blood more effectively, improving blood circulation throughout the body. Most importantly, it helps reduce heart disease risk factors that could otherwise increase the chance of having other heart problems in future.

In addition, staying active helps all your other muscles and lungs work better. This reduces the demand on your heart when you exercise.

“Our recommendation for anyone with an existing heart condition who wants to exercise is to speak to your doctor first,” explains Dr Sabiha Gati, consultant cardiologist and specialist in sports cardiology.

“Depending on the type of heart condition you have, your doctor can advise on the best exercise plan that will gently and safely work to strengthen your heart.”

The benefits of exercise

The European Society of Cardiology recommends that people with heart conditions should complete 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week. This is the same recommendation for healthy adults of any age.

Moderate intensity exercise is any activity that increases your heart and breathing rate while still being able to have a conversation.

Researchers have found that people who became more physically active after having a heart attack reduced their risk of dying by 50% within 4 years.

Studies also show that regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart failure in people with coronary heart disease. Additionally, it increases their chance of living longer.

However, there is a very small risk of triggering a sudden cardiac arrest if too much strain is put on your heart with an existing heart problem. People that have advanced heart disease and that previously had a sedentary (not physically active) lifestyle are most at risk.

Certain heart medications can also affect the way your body responds to exercise and how much you can achieve.

consultation with a sports cardiologist can help you understand your heart risk during exercise. It can also help you understand your limits.

Supporting you to exercise safely

A heart problem shouldn’t prevent you from taking part in recreational exercise. You may also wish to take part in competitive sports and want to understand how to safely do this.

“The benefits of physical activity extend beyond keeping your heart healthy. It can help prevent bone loss with older age, improve balance and coordination, and increase muscle strength. It can also improve your mental wellbeing,” explains Dr Gati.

“As part of our sports cardiology service at Royal Brompton Hospital, we work with our patients to understand their individual level of heart risk and develop an exercise plan that helps them achieve their fitness goals.”

After an initial consultation, our sports cardiologists may refer you for diagnostic testing. This testing helps us to understand how your heart works with physical activity.

This could include an exercise stress test, where your heart rate and the structures of your heart are assessed before and after exercise.

Other advanced heart scans like a cardiac MRI may also be recommended if they are concerned about the structures of your heart. The test provides greater detail to spot problems such as scarring of the heart muscle.

Our sports cardiologists can also use data from prior heart diagnostic tests to guide you on how to stay active. In addition, they can create a treatment plan if necessary.

“Exercise is beneficial for everyone with heart disease. As sports cardiologists, we aim to help patients choose the safest and most enjoyable activities that can help them stay healthy,” says Dr Gati.

For a private heart check with one of our sports cardiologists, please contact our team.