Can Exercise Trigger a Heart Attack?

by Jodee on February 15, 2011

When a person has a heart attack, it’s natural for them to look to a triggering event as the reason for it. The fact is the heart attack occurred because of an underlying health condition. Stress or another event contributed to it.

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the organ is slowed or stops completely. In most cases, the cause of heart attack is due to atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the arteries supplying the heart due to a buildup of plaque. Over time, this sticky substance can restrict or even completely block the arteries supplying the heart.

When blood supply to the heart is interfered with in this way, it can cause damage to the heart muscle. In some cases, the heart attack interferes with the way the heart pumps blood, which has the potential to stop the heart entirely. Quick action is needed when a person is not breathing and has no heart beat. A combination of CPR and fibrillation can increase the patient’s chance of survival when a heart attack occurs.

In some cases, exercise can be a triggering event for a heart attack, especially for someone who is not used to being physically active on a regular basis. It can be tempting for someone who has made the decision to get into shape to want to move quickly toward a healthier (and more attractive) body, but this is a case where starting slowly is essential.

Rather than try to cram all physical activity for the week into a single session, a much better choice is to spread it out in smaller sessions throughout the week. Going to the gym every other day gives muscles that have been pushed to work harder than they are used to time to recover before they are challenged again.

Aerobic exercise contributes to heart health because it increases the heart rate and keeps it at a higher level for at least several minutes. Going for a walk is a great way to start getting fit for people who are new to exercise. Walking can be done outside, in a mall or on a treadmill.

It’s a good idea for exercise newbies who have decided to go to the gym to work out with a personal trainer. This strategy can be effective for a number of reasons:

  • Scheduling an appointment with a trainer helps the client to stay on track
  • The client learns how to use exercise equipment (treadmill, elliptical trainer, stationary bicycle, etc.) properly.
  • The client gets instruction about his or her target heart rate and the right intensity for the workout. This valuable information will lower the risk that exercise will trigger a heart attack.

Visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation web site for more information about exercise and heart attack prevention.

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