By Kim Russell
13 Feb

Starting Out Small

Thursday, February 13, 2014

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.

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