Muscle-building exercise that's easy on the heart?
July 5, 2011 11:04 AM   Subscribe

What are some good muscle-building, resistance-based exercises that don't place a lot of strain on the heart?

Asking on behalf of a friend, mid-30s, who has an aortic valve defect (of medium-level severity, currently asymptomatic) and some regurgitation. He's on an ACE inhibitor. He was told by a doctor long ago to "avoid all weight-lifting exercises" because of the heart, and is currently really struggling to maintain a healthy weight using diet and light cardio alone.

My instincts are that a male of this age is ultimately going to need to build some muscle in order to stay healthy and keep his weight down-- but he also needs to avoid activities that'd strain his heart. Occasionally, overexertion (like running up a hill, running too fast on the treadmill) has caused him to feel faint-- I'm guessing because of the meds?-- but he seems to be able to casually lift heavy things in daily life (furniture, playfully picking up 125-lb girlfriend, etc.) without issues.

I'm looking for ideas for resistance activities that might work in this situation. Obviously, he'd check any new exercise plan with his doctor first, but most cardiologists don't seem to be especially well up on fitness physiology, so I think it'd really help for him to have some concrete ideas to ask about, rather than simply asking a physician what she recommends. Any suggestions for external resources would likewise be very welcome-- either specific to the heart thing OR on the importance of resistance vs. cardio+dieting in general (friend remains semi-unconvinced). Thanks!
posted by Bardolph to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No exercise doesn't strain the heart. Your intuition that cardiologists are not up to speed on exercise is likely correct. I'd advise your friend to start talking to physical therapists. He should ask these physical therapists if they work with any doctors. Your friend should then contact those doctors who work with these physical therapists and figure out a sensible treatment plan.
posted by dfriedman at 11:19 AM on July 5, 2011

Yeah, given the situation you've described here, this is a bad question. The answers that you get are unlikely to be based in the kind of science that they would need to be to make sure your friend is safe. Your friend should have a talk with his doctor about just what kinds of exercise he can and cannot do, and he should specifically request a referral to someone who can help him figure this out if the doc cannot.

When the medical issue is as dire as you've describe, the internet is a very bad place to look for advice.
posted by OmieWise at 11:24 AM on July 5, 2011

Here's the American Heart Association's scientific statement Resistance Exercise in Individuals With and Without Cardiovascular Disease: 2007 Update.

No one can know whether this very generic advice applies in this case, and he should follow his doctor's advice unless otherwise instructed, but the article might be a good starting point for further dicussion with his doctor or another medical professional.

Summary: "Since the first AHA science advisory regarding RT in 2000, RT has become even more accepted and commonly used in exercise training programs for persons with and without CVD. The potential benefits, not only to cardiovascular health but also to weight management and the prevention of disability and falls, are becoming more widely appreciated. For persons at low risk for cardiac events, extensive cardiovascular screening is probably not necessary, although a graded approach is recommended. For persons at moderate to high risk of such events, RT can be safely undertaken with proper preparation, guidance, and surveillance. Because long-term compliance remains a challenge for adult fitness and exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation programs, the incorporation of RT can provide variety in the training regimen and can increase the potential for maintenance of interest and improved compliance. However, given the extensive evidence of the benefits of aerobic exercise training on the modulation of cardiovascular risk factors, RT should be viewed as a complement to rather than a replacement for aerobic exercise."

Of course, the
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:31 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My instincts are that a male of this age is ultimately going to need to build some muscle in order to stay healthy and keep his weight down

In the last two years or so I've converted to the opinion that we exercise for many good reasons, but weight management isn't one of them. If his primary goal is weight loss then a proper diet is his best bet. A good reduction in calories and the only exercise he'll need are long, leisurely, nightly walks.

It's not fair that he doesn't have the option of gaining muscle to enable food indulgences. But thems the breaks.
posted by sbutler at 11:44 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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