After a heart attack, a doctor will likely counsel you about what sort of activity you should engage in. When you are still in the hospital, a Cardiac Rehab team will check your blood pressure and heart rate while you walk to get an idea about how well your heart is dealing with exercise. Based on these tests, a home exercise program will be developed to help you continue to build the strength of your cardiovascular system.
When you first come home from the hospital, it’s important to give the damaged muscle in your heart time to heal. Scar tissue needs to form. It’s generally concluded that this process takes about six weeks. During this period, you’ll want to avoid too much physical or emotional stress. After the six weeks have passed, scar tissue should be strong enough to cope with moderate work.
Some people choose to ease themselves into an exercise routine by walking for five minutes, four times per day. Each day, you can add another two minutes. The longer the walking sessions get, the more you can decrease the number of times you go for a walk in one day. By the time you get to a 30 minute walk, once a day should be enough. Reaching that 30 minute-walk mark is something of a milestone after you have a heart attack. After this, you can start increasing the intensity of your walking for three to five minutes at a time. Eventually, you can move onto other types of exercise, such as resistance training and using an exercise bike.
Although there’s quite a lot of support and reference material around resuming physical exercise after a heart attack, very little is often said about another important subject: resuming sexual activity. Many patients are seeking guidance about this topic but doctors don’t always bring the subject up during appointments. Having a sexual relationship with a partner is important but heart attack survivors can be understandably worried about the impact this activity may have on their recovery.
The American Heart Association in conjunction with the European Heart Journal have released a report that asks healthcare professionals to counsel heart and stroke patients about how to resume sexual activity. This is the first scientific paper to offer guidance to patients and it attempts to address the common fear patients have that engaging in sex will trigger another heart attack. There have been prior recommendations about when to resume sexual activity, risks associated with sex and managing medications, but this is the first report that gets to the specifics.
It states that doctors and patients should work together to build an individualized approach to adding sexual activity back into the lives of heart attack patients. Healthcare providers can make recommendations about positions that are less stressful for the heart, advice on how to be intimate without making big demands on the heart, as well as when to resume sexual activity.
The researchers urge that time constraints and embarrassment shouldn’t keep doctors from talking about this subject which is important to a heart patient’s physical and mental health. Don’t feel that you have to worry about whether or not your heart can deal with sexual activity in silence. Discuss your fears with your doctor and resolve these concerns with some concrete advice.
“Physicians should counsel patients about sex life after cardiac event,” American Heart Association web site, July 23, 2013; http://newsroom.heart.org/news/physicians-should-counsel-patients-about-sex-life-after-cardiac-event, last accessed August 7, 2013.
“Exercise and Activity After a Heart Attack,” University of Wisconsin Health web site; http://goo.gl/nn1y6b, last accessed August 7, 2013.