Overthinking running on a treadmill for 15 minutes
November 12, 2010 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm doing an exercise stress test next week. What can I expect?

I'm 26 and I don't have any sort of diagnosed heart condition (yet?). I'm female. There are all sorts of heart problems in my family.

So, I know I'm going to run on a treadmill with little ECG things stuck to me. But what else? What do I wear? Will I feel up to going to work afterward (i.e.: sitting at my desk)? My sense of balance is terrible; will I have a bar to steady myself?

I'm a bit out of shape (it's painful to breathe when I exercise heavily) - is this going to suck?

I have a call into the doctor's office, but I won't get a call back until Monday. I don't want to be freaked out all weekend!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
I know I'm going to run on a treadmill with little ECG things stuck to me.

That's pretty much it. Depending on how well you tolerate it, they'll up the slope and/or speed every couple of minutes. Each time they'll stop you for a bit and check your BP.

I went because of a history of heart problems in my family and some breathing difficulty/chest pains I was experiencing.

I don't think I ever actually ran until the last go-around. It was just a faster and faster walk until the last time when they told me I could run if I needed to.

They told me to wear comfortable clothes and sneakers. I think I wore jeans and I was fine.

I ended it with a "higher than normal tolerance" to exercise so how much it sucks for you will depend on your tolerance. I didn't think it was any big deal. I've been more winded kicking around a soccer ball with my son. The doctor acted annoyed that my PCP sent me at all.

It's a regular treadmill and there was a bar to hold on to.

It's really nothing to get stressed about. A five minute rest afterwards and you'll be back to normal.
posted by bondcliff at 10:34 AM on November 12, 2010

Hi ... I've done two of these.

Dress comfortably for exercise and wear running shoes. Loose T-shirt for the ECG contacts. You will be running on a treadmill, so you can steady yourself. You will ideally have a nurse and/or a tech there to help you.

Running form is unimportant. They will test you at a resting rate, an elevated rate (i.e. walking) and then will ask you to run until your heart rate reaches a certain threshold for a specified amount of time. Depending on your fitness level, this could be a brisk jog or an all-out sprint.

Regardless, you're going to be breathing heavily. You likely won't be drowning in sweat, because you won't be running for a long time. But you're likely going to want to towel off before returning to work.

Your experience will vary -- people are different. But treat this like you're going out for a brisk exercise, and you'll be fine.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:35 AM on November 12, 2010

I just had one. I'm also female and out of shape. I wore exercise gear, which wasn't necessary. I'm sure everywhere is a little different, but here's what happened to me. And BTW, it was far less scary than I'd expected.

-- Got in, was told to undress from waist up. Given a johnny opening in front.
-- Nurse opened johnny and stucky electrodes all over (really all over . . . ) my chest.
-- MD came in and asked me to walk on a treadmill. She had it on an incline the whole time and merely increased the speed. It didn't last nearly as long as I'd thought it would. Basically, they want to measure your heart rate at different levels of exercise and to get it up to a certain percentage of your maximum heart rate. So it depends on how out of shape you are as to how long that takes. She didn't make me run! The incline got steeper and it went faster until I'd been on maybe 10 or 15 minutes at the most. I was not panting or gasping for breath and was barely sweating. They gave me a glass of water after. They seemed to be very used to people who are not thin and who are out of shape!
-- The treadmill was very plain -- no fancy console -- and yes, there were bars to hold onto on the sides and the front.

Overall it was much less difficult than I'd imagined. I thought they'd have me on there for 45 minutes and I would be embarrassed that I can't jog for more than a few minutes. I also thought there would be accompanying lectures, but instead I got some practical and nonjudgmental ideas for starting to get back into shape, along with a specific heart rate and time to exercise so I'm not just flailing around guessing at how long I should be on there at the gym when I start next week. :)

Try not to worry. Even if your people aren't as nice as mine, it won't be as bad as you think. They'll be ready for you and your out-of-shape self. If you want to go to work afterward, you should be fine. I felt sort of silly for wearing my exercise clothing, although you will want to be comfortable, of course. Walking shoes and a T-shirt or similar are a good idea.

And it was great getting instant feedback from the MD. I got a clean bill of health in this case, apart from needing to condition my heart with exercise, but even if they say there's something going on with you, it is good because you won't be wondering and worrying -- it's good to know the facts, IMO.

I very rarely go to the doctor. I was pleased with myself for taking the stress test. I was glad when it was over, but it was nothing like what I'd expected. OK to send me a note if you want. Good luck!
posted by theredpen at 10:44 AM on November 12, 2010

When you take a stress test, wear comfortable clothes. They don't have to be standard gym clothes, but just something that's not restrictive. You can bring a change of clothes with you.

The electrodes don't hurt. They're stuck to your body in a few places, and it's best not to wear any skin lotion that could interfere with the not-very-strong adhesive.

You'll be on a treadmill with a waist-high rail on each side, and you should hold on, at least lightly. The speed with start off slowly with no incline, and at intervals it'll get faster, and possibly add an uphill slope.

You can stop the test at any time. Don't worry at all about how long you go. the point of the test is to find out how your heart functions during strenuous exercise, and once it becomes strenuous, there will be useful results. If you can just go a couple of minutes, the doctor will probably recommend that you get some regular exercise, but there won't be any problem with the testing. I stopped one stress test early because I was getting too hot, and it was fine.

You'll feel relieved when you find out there's not much to it. Just make sure to drink water before the test, and don't eat just beforehand.
posted by wryly at 10:52 AM on November 12, 2010

I had one. They are pretty. They're designed to be performed on people with potentially serious heart conditions. Relax, it'll be easy.
posted by chairface at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2010

I had one two days ago. I was most concerned about being able to wear a bra, as I would surely cold cock myself before getting my heart rate up without one. I wore a pullover nonunderwire sports bra--no hardware whatsoever, which they allowed me to wear for the test. Good luck.
posted by apparently at 11:04 AM on November 12, 2010

The single most important thing to remember is that you're not being graded. Not on your fitness, not on your form, not on your grace, not on your wardrobe, not on anything. They're just checking your heart to see how it handles the exercise.

If you don't like exercise and aren't in what you consider 'good shape,' it's not going to be fun. But it's not painful, either. And they're not going to overwork you. Like I said, the whole point is to measure how your heart handles stress -- not to see how fast or far or steep you can go. No one's going to be brandishing a whip or a megaphone or berating you for your performance.

The second most important thing to remember is that this is a test administered to 70- and 75-year-olds regularly, and that you're not going to pass out or collapse, and that you can handle it.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:29 AM on November 12, 2010

I work in an office that runs these sorts of tests, however I'm not a tech that runs them.

You shouldn't worry, I've seen 85 year old ladies with hip problems do this test. They don't walk for very long but they're still able to complete the test.

The tech wants to get your heart rate up to a set number (90% Maximal Predicted Heart Rate) which is calculated based on your age. This is achieved by gradually increasing the the treadmill speed and incline each stage. During the test, they monitor your EKGs to see if there's any abnormal heart rhythms. If you're out of shape, you'll reach the target heart rate quickly; the techs may or may not push you a little but further depending on which stage of the test you are at.

For some more information check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Protocol
posted by aGee at 11:51 AM on November 12, 2010

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