Hitting the stairs: Exercise after heart surgery

Exercise plays a vital role in heart health. In fact, whether you’re simply trying to prevent heart problems down the road or trying to avoid a second heart surgery, your doctor will tell you that staying active is one of the best things you can do for your heart.

Yet, if you fall into that second category — and have already lived through a cardiac bypass or stent procedure — you might be worried about how much exercise you should get. It’s reasonable to wonder if a strenuous workout is safe and if there really is any benefit to be had from hitting the gym.

It’s certainly something you’d want to discuss with your heart doctor, but there’s also news on the research front…

Two levels of exercise, both with big benefits

Research performed by a team at McMaster University specifically looked at two levels of exercise for heart patients.

This first was a vigorous stair-climbing routine — one which many heart patients would think might be too much. The other was regular moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, light jogging or swimming, or even gardening.

Their goal was to determine whether one or both of the routines could provide significant cardiovascular and muscular benefits.

Why were they worried about muscular outcomes?

Good question!

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“These patients who had undergone a coronary bypass or stent procedure had muscle that was compromised, compared to age-matched healthy controls,” explained Stuart Phillips, a co-author of the study and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster who oversaw the analysis of muscle tissue taken during the study.

In other words, after a heart procedure, you lose muscle. And if you don’t do something to get it back, that loss can continue, leading to frailty.

The researchers randomly assigned participants either to traditional moderate-intensity exercise or vigorous stair climbing. Stair climbing included three rounds of six flights of 12 stairs, separated by recovery periods of walking, with participants selecting their own stepping pace.

Then, after four weeks, they compared the results.

And guess what…

Both groups increased their cardiorespiratory fitness and managed to maintain those levels for an additional eight weeks of unsupervised training.

Even better, whether they were simply walking briskly or hiking the stairs, all participants also experienced substantial muscular improvement.

“Even in just a short period, whether it was moderate-intensity, continuous training or high-intensity stair climbing, there were beneficial adaptations in muscles after a cardiac procedure,” Phillips says. “The improvements were clear.”

Safe and easy, with no special equipment required

So if you’re recovering from a heart procedure, or simply want to keep up your cardiovascular fitness and your muscle tone, stair-climbing could be a safe and effective option for you.

You don’t need a gym or specialized equipment. Any old flight of stairs will do.

Of course, as with anything post-surgery, be sure to talk to your doctor to ensure the exercise you’ve chosen fits your condition and abilities. And remember, overall fitness is the key to cardiovascular fitness.

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Stair climbing offers significant cardiovascular and muscular benefits for heart patients — EurekAlert!


Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.