Research has shown that regular exercise and physical activity have numerous benefits for people fitted with an ICD. These include improving your heart and lung function, increasing life expectancy as well as boosting your confidence and energy levels. One of the biggest obstacles to starting exercise is often fear as many people are worried that it may be unsafe to exercise with an ICD. However, the likelihood of an arrhythmia occurring during moderate intensity exercise is no greater than whilst resting providing you warm up and cool down properly and follow a few simple guidelines.
If you are starting to exercise for the first time or worried about whether an exercise is safe then please speak to your GP or cardiologist before you begin. They will be able to advise on how your ICD is programmed and tell you how high you can safely raise your heart rate. Avoid exercising if you feel unwell or are recovering from illness. Stop and rest if you start to feel unwell during exercise.
To get the beneficial effects of exercise you should aim to exercise or be physically active at least five times a week for 30 minutes or more. If you can not manage 30 minutes in one session you can split it up into shorter intervals. You should exercise at an intensity which gets your heart beating at between 60-75% of your maximum heart rate (maximum heart rate = 220 minus your age, if you are on beta blockers subtract a further 30). You can also monitor your exercise intensity by rating your own effort on a scale of 0-10 with 0 representing how you feel at rest and 10 your maximum effort. You should aim to keep your perceived exertion at 4-6 on this scale. This means breathing hard enough that you need to breath through your mouth but still have enough breath to talk in full sentences.
An important part of exercising safely is warming up and cooling down. This involves doing lower intensity activities and stretching for about 10 to 15 minutes before and after exercise to allow your heart rate to increase and decrease gradually. You should be able to breath comfortably through your nose during this period. If you are breathing through your mouth you are working too hard.
The type of exercise you do is down to personal choice. Exercises that use lots of muscle groups are best e.g. walking, cycling, dancing or gardening. Try to choose something you enjoy as you are more likely to stick with it. Avoid exercises that involve heavy lifting, lying down or use only your arm muscles.
The many benefits of exercise don’t just apply to people with ICDs. Most people will benefit from increasing their physical activity levels so why not involve other members of the family? Exercise gives you the ideal opportunity to find an activity you can enjoy together whilst taking a positive step towards improving your health.
If you have recently been fitted with your ICD ask your cardiologist about a referral to cardiac rehabilitation. This is a six week hospital based programme which will show you how to start exercising safely. If you have had your ICD for some time then community based programmes are available which will enable you to exercise under the supervision of a specially trained fitness instructor.
More information can be found on the web at www.heartrhythmcharity.org.uk or in the British Heart Foundation leaflet “30 mins a day – any way”.
St Peters Hospital
And don’t forget that if you live in Surrey you are invited to attend the ICDC Surrey Education Day on 11 May.