Is it OK to exercise moderately and lift weights after my angioplasty/stent?

General responses to selected questions from Joel Braunstein, MD, of Johns Hopkins University and Joseph Toscano, MD.

Question:

I had an angioplasty operation a couple years ago in which one stint was placed and two arteries were found to be 60% blocked. I do not smoke or drink and my blood pressure is normal. Would it be okay to moderately exercise, jog, and lift weights?

Answer:

Without knowing the full details of your past medical history, it is impossible for me to speculate about the current safety of you beginning an exercise program. Generally speaking, however, the answer is that it is usually okay, even encouraged, for individuals with known heart disease to adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes good nutrition and regular physical activity. Before engaging in a regular physical activity program, however, it is important, especially for an individual with early-onset heart disease, to first gain support from his/her personal doctor. Prior to beginning, your doctor will want to make sure you are not currently suffering any symptoms like chest pain with exertion to suggest active coronary disease. Your doctor may even recommend an exercise stress test or stress-imaging test to know that your heart will likely respond well to the demands of exercise. I say "likely respond" because, unfortunately, these tests are not perfect.

On rare occasions, tests yielding completely normal results can precede a serious, totally unexpected cardiovascular event that occurs during exercise. By all means, however, once your doctor gives you the okay to exercise, you should develop an exercise plan for guidance and motivation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the American College of Sports Medicine now recommend that adults engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activities on five or more days of the week. Aerobic activities include walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling, and virtually any other form of activity that gets your heart moving regularly. Aerobic activity has a hugely beneficial health impact by reducing risk of future cardiovascular disease, facilitating weight loss, improving cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and improving mood. Even resistance training, such as light weightlifting, has an important impact on our health. Two 15-20 minute episodes per week of resistance training are usually sufficient to achieve its desired health effects such as improved metabolism, reductions in insulin resistance (and propensity to develop Type 2 diabetes mellitus), and preserved strength and independence, particularly among older individuals.

Short of a definitive answer on what you should do, visit your doctor and obtain his/her support to begin an exercise program. I am sure he/she will fully advocate it after an initial screen. Good luck and congratulations on your efforts thus far to optimize your health.