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Starting Out Small

Feb 13

Posted by: ACHA
2/13/2014 12:53 PM  RssIcon

By Kim Russell

It seems that society has trained us to think of exercise in terms of weight maintenance and toning muscles. But my experience has shown that it does a whole lot more! No energy to exercise, you say? Let me share my story. I found that my thinking was clearer, my pulmonary function was much better and I felt so much better as a person by exercising! Even starting with the smallest, slowest of exercises is still helpful. Here’s how I know!

Two years ago I arrived at my cardiology appointment fatigued, blue, and frustrated. The doctor explained that none of the tests, echos, EKGs or bloodwork showed any serious changes related to my heart. Once again, my cardiologists reviewed the “CHD rules” for dental care, sodium restrictions and exercise.

“You are exercising, right?” she asked.

I looked down as I have at every other appointment and replied that I had not. She looked at me sternly (I still wish I had a video of it) and explained clearly that exercise was vital to my health. All she required was for me to walk for 30 minutes every day. She even took one of her business cards and wrote on the back, “Exercise, exercise, exercise!” I thought she didn’t realize how poorly I felt or she would not require such a difficult task. I just didn’t have the energy.

Then one day as I sat in my craft room, I spotted a rubber exercise band. I picked it up. “Well, nothing else is helping, as least give minimal exercise a try. I don’t have the energy for doing much, but I guess a little is better than none,” I told myself. So I went to my chair, sat down, tied a knot in the band and started exercising my legs while I worked on crafts. Only 10 stretches, but it was a start.

“Well, that was easy!” I thought. So every day I got out my band and did 10 stretches. Slowly, as I felt a little more energized, I increased the number of stretches each day. One day I noticed that I was feeling even a little better, so I started wearing the band around my ankles while walking around the house.

After two or three weeks, my husband noticed that I was feeling a little better and asked if I would like to go walk at the mall. So we put on our tennis shoes and away we went. We started with one slow round. Over the course of a few weeks, we began to build up speed. When we reached the maximum speed that I could tolerate (which is minimal compared to what most people can do), we started increasing the distance. It was great!

So I suggested we get a recumbent bike to exercise so we didn’t have to drive to the mall every day. We did. And it worked out well. I started out riding two miles a day in about 45 minutes. As before, I increased time and speed and within two months, I was up to riding 10 miles in an hour on a medium tension setting. Wow, did I feel great! And how proud I was when I went back to the cardiologist the next year! My six-minute walk was the best ever. And I felt better than I had in years.

Starting out with small, doable exercises made all the difference!

You might consider watching the ACHA webinar, Exercise and the ACHD Patient, presented by Michael McBride, PhD.

Note: Always make sure to check with your ACHD cardiologist before beginning any exercise routine.

Kim Russell, who is also an ACHA Heart to Heart Ambassador, was born in 1960 with a double inlet single ventricle (left) with pulmonary atresia and chronic cyanosis. At three months she had her first Blalock–Taussig shunt and at age four, had another. Her final surgery was in 1992, at the age of 32. All along the CHD journey, she and her parents knew no one else with CHD. As Kim says, “No one else should to have to grow up or experience any CHD issues alone. We are all in this together!”

Copyright ©2014 ACHA

Tags: Kim Russell
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1 comment(s) so far...


Re: Starting Out Small

Thank you for sharing your story! Winter is definitely the most challenging time for me to remember to invest in myself, and exercise. I grew up with a cardiologist who erred on the side of caution, and told me that I shouldn't do anything strenuous. It is always a challenge to know if my fatigue symptoms and palpitations are serious enough to cease activity, or if my symptoms are simply psychosomatic. I love to walk, and have recently added yoga to my exercise routine, which allows me to build strength without creating an uncomfortably high heart rate. When I see people like Shaun White who have become extreme athletes, I wonder how my experience and beliefs about my abilities may have been different in another environment.

By Jennifer Tatum on   2/14/2014 9:39 AM

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