Jon Stavres, M.S. ACSM-EP-C
After experiencing a cardiac event, patients are generally counseled to start making some significant lifestyle changes. Among these changes are improving diet, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, and beginning exercise. Even for individuals who were previously active, beginning exercise after a cardiac event or diagnosis can be intimidating. For many, the idea of resistance training raises red flags. However, new evidence supports the theory that resistance training is as safe as it is effective.
Resistance training is safe and effective
Resistance training has been shown to be beneficial in a variety of ways. Research suggests that weekly resistance training relates to significantly reduced rates of both fatal and non-fatal cardiac events. This is the ultimate goal of any cardiac rehabilitation program. Before research on resistance training became more prominent, theory was that resistance training would cause a chronic increase in blood pressure. While blood pressure does increase during an isometric contraction (a contraction that is held continuously without a rest phase), there is no concrete evidence to support a negative effect on resting blood pressure over time.
The most vital benefit of resistance training is the increase in muscular strength, and therefore muscular function. Muscular function is a large part of what allows someone to maintain their independence. When someone no longer has the strength in their legs to walk, they will require a wheelchair. When someone no longer has the strength in their arms to carry a gallon of milk, they become dependent on an aid. Cardiac patients can experience the same strength gains from resistance training as their healthy counterparts, as long as they practice safely and effectively.
There are a few times when resistance training is contraindicated, and a physician should be consulted before beginning. One example is if the patient is exhibiting significantly high blood pressure ( 160/100 mmHg). Other cases would include the presence of retinopathy, significantly elevated blood glucose levels, or musculoskeletal injuries that would restrict safe movement.
How to resistance train safely
When resistance training is not contraindicated, here are a few key safety tips to consider.
- First, if you received a sternotomy, be sure to wait 8-12 weeks for the wound to heal before beginning upper body exercise of any kind.
- Second, avoid lifting weights over your head. This would be free weight overhead presses, bench presses, or any exercise in which weight could possibly fall on you. Although resistance training is safe to perform, there is always a risk of lightheadedness association with strenuous activity.
- Do functional activities; these are highly recommended. If you are picking up your children or grandchildren regularly then practice picking up sand bags. This will improve your daily function, and keep you independent longer after your event.
- Finally, never hold your breath. Always make sure to breath throughout the exercise. Holding your breath can increase blood pressure and cause significant lightheadedness even to a young healthy person.
In the past, resistance training was thought to be an exercise modality mainly reserved for bodybuilders and athletes. However, muscle function is important for every person and arguably most important for the person wanting to maintain their independence. Safe resistance training may be the boost needed to truly recover and rehabilitate after a cardiac event.
*For examples of other variations/exercises look under Multimedia-VDF Exercise Tip
**Jonathon Stavres MS ACSM-EP-C is a guest contributing writer. He is a doctorate student in the Exercise Science/Exercise Physiology dept. at Kent State University
Pescatello, L. S., Arena, R., Riebe, D., & Thompson, P. D. (2014).ACSM’S guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. Baltimore, Maryland: Lippincot & Wilkins
Tanasescu M., Leitzmann, M. F., Rimm, E. B., Willett, W. C., Stampfer, M. J., & Hu, F. B. (2002). Exercise type and intensity in relation to coronary heart disease in men. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(16), 1994-2000.