The Mighty Logo

What No One Tells You About Exercising With Heart Disease

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

The science says that exercising is the healthiest thing you can do for your health and body. I am someone who cares a lot about fitness and staying in shape. Movement is the best way to boost your mood, immune system, improve your heart health and alleviate pain symptoms. Like almost every living being, I, too, have limitations as well as heart disease. I had a type of heart surgery 35 years ago that once it’s repaired, it should be smooth sailing uphill from there. And it has been.

But there are things no one tells you about exercising with heart disease, especially with stress in the equation. Exercising as a way to manage the stress is not how you want to deal with life’s challenges. In my case, eight or so months ago, I went through quite a few life changes. This past summer, I enrolled in a strict fitness program doing high-intensity workouts. I was told by a physician that my risk for a cardiac event was incredibly low and gave me the green light to do as I pleased. I was also told that I didn’t have many limitations and could do any kind of exercise.

I did high impact workouts believing I was taking control of my stress and life. Exercising on a three-to-six day a week schedule increased my endorphins and I was my creative, happy self again. I failed to acknowledge the level of stress I was under within the last six months as I was doing Cross-Fit training, HIIT and (sporadically) Zumba. With or without heart disease, it never occurred to me how exercising can have an adverse or potentially dangerous repercussion. Nobody wants to have this conversation, but it must be had (with a physician, preferably).

During a post-assessment at my fitness center, I did an EKG to check my heart rate. It shot up as high as 196, even higher, and atrial fibrillation (AFib) was detected in this 10-minute assessment. I’m not sure yet if I do have AFib; I have to do a stress test which will most likely detect it again. These symptoms are occurring daily. And yes, I had all the symptoms during that EKG and knew something wasn’t right. It was shocking and disappointing. I had accomplished long-term strength training and flexibility goals.


The good news is, even though I may have AFib, it is treatable and easily manageable, so I’m not trying to stress about it. I’m still exercising just in a way that’s not so high impact but still giving me great results. I’m doing yoga, what I’ve always done, and easy strengthening exercises—ensuring to keep my heart rate normal. I realize I don’t totally have control of that.

Just because something like exercise is super healthy, it’s important to consider your heart health, stress levels and know what your limitations are before embarking on your workout goals in this New Year and new decade. Nothing is the same for everybody. We’re all different. Exercising to overcome or cope with stress should never be suggested, and I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. Maybe a doctor can’t know how exercise will affect one’s heart in times of stress. No one will tell you or admit that exercise could possibly be a risk for cardiac patients.

Perhaps it’s one of those situations where you’ve got to do what’s best for you and be able to adequately determine how much or little you should do while working out. It’s for you to know, be mindful of, and balance out.

If there is anything I’ve learned, you must know your body and your symptoms and know them intimately. I might’ve stated it before and will again: knowing your body can be lifesaving.

I’m surely monitoring every symptom, but I don’t know what my risk is now after all this. I’m doing what I can to reduce stress through meditation, sensory deprivation therapy, yoga stretching, and enjoying every minute of my work and hobbies. Stress management is something we can control and what I’m paying extra attention to each day.

Originally published: January 10, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home