What It's Like to Exercise With Heart Problems

I stand in my Ballet Barre class squinting to see the next exercise the instructor is demonstrating. I can feel my heart start to beat abnormally. I remain calm, taking deep, slow breathes in and out until I feel my heart slow down. It takes no more than 20 seconds, but I feel a pang of anxiety as I begin the the next exercise later than the rest of the class. Although I am typically one of the youngest present, I struggle to keep up with the mainly much older retirees who attend these mid morning sessions.

Other than the medical alert bracelet and necklace I always wear, there are no obvious clues that I have anything seriously wrong with my health. But unbeknownst to the people standing next to me, I have a primary arrhythmia disorder that has caused me to go into episodes of ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation when exercising and when stressed.

For a while I was restricted from many forms of physical activity, but after receiving an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) I regained the confidence to start being active regularly again. I happily joined a fitness center and started taking Ballet Barre and Zumba classes. Although my exercise is always in a group setting, I have recently realized my experience is probably very different than most of the people in the group.

Throughout the workout I am constantly aware of what my heart is doing, “Is it beating too fast? Is my vision starting to fade? Do I need to take a break?” are thoughts constantly floating throughout my head. I realized that although every class I attend brings me a sort of euphoria, there is always at least one point in the class where I wonder if I’m going to die. Not in a morbid, extreme anxiety inducing way. But a split second where my heart beats a bit abnormally and I wonder if it will continue or terminate – and that if it doesn’t terminate, will my ICD fire appropriately and save me or will I succumb to these malignant arrhythmias?

Some would wonder why I would desire and continue to be physically active despite these issues. For me personally, I came the conclusion that I didn’t only want to live but I wanted to live a life worth living. I don’t want to exist and be stopped by my condition, which is why I continue to go to my classes and keep up as best as I can, while being aware of how my heart feels. And after every class that I don’t have a major episode I am not only blessed with improved health, energy, and mood, but I have a deep gratitude for something many people don’t even realize. I am thankful for whenever my heart continues to beat normally. So after every class, I place my hand on my chest, and in my head I say to my heart: thank you for being there for me as I needed you.

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