Best Exercise For Leaky Heart Valve 2023: 6 Exercises To Follow
So you have been diagnosed with a leaky heart valve, and now you may be wondering “what exactly is it? and what are the best exercises that I can follow?”.
Without delving into too much detail, there are four valves in the heart. You will find the mitral and aortic valve and mitral valve located in the left side of the heart. Within the right side of the heart, we have the pulmonary valve and tricuspid valve.
The right side of the heart receives oxygen poor blood and pumps it to the lungs to be oxygenated. Once the blood is oxygenated, it is delivered to the left side of the heart and then pumped to the muscles and organs of the body. This blood circulation cycle continues throughout the day and speeds up during exercises, as you will come to learn.
Leaky heart valves are defined as abnormal reversal of blood flow. For this reason, it is likely that insufficient amounts of blood are pumped around the body. Although, this depends on the severity of the condition. In turn, this could cause the heart to work a lot harder with an increased risk of complications like heart attack.
Leaky heart valves may occur from variables such as; congenital heart defects, cardiomyopathy, rheumatic heart, infective endocarditis, and coronary artery disease.
Common symptoms could include: dizziness, frequent heart palpitations, and chest pains.
Within this short article, we have covered some valuable information regarding exercising while living with a leaky heart valve, including 6 example exercises that you may want to look into.
Best Exercise For Leaky Heart Valve
In my opinion, the “Best” Exercise For Leaky Heart Valve include:
- Resistance Band or Light Dumbell Based Strength Training
Understanding Target Heart Rate Zone When Doing
Have you ever heard of the idiom “No one size fits all”? This is absolutely valid in the case of a leaky heart valve disease. Exercise intensity and target heart rate zones usually differ from person to person depending on the exact condition and its severity.
To get an idea of a suitable target heart rate, you should consult your registered medical doctor or cardiologist.
In general, we are looking at a target heart rate of 50-60% MHR, which is classified as “light physical activity”. This is a much better option compared to vigorous exercise, which may have an element of cardiovascular risk, as mentioned in the following section.
You may even be able to dabble in some moderate exercises, reaching a heart rate of 65%, so long as it does not cause any chest pain. I definitely would not suggest working within higher intensities of 70-100% as this is extremely risky.
Lower intensity exercise poses less risk of stressing the heart valves, yet may still improve cardiovascular health to some extent.
What Effect Does Exercise Intensity Have On Heart Rate?
The muscles of the body require oxygen to function. The harder the muscles work (higher intensity exercise) the more oxygenated blood is needed.
For this reason, the heart works harder by increasing the number of times that it beats in a given time (beats per minute) which are a lot more forceful (stroke volume) compared to a resting state. This allows more oxygenated blood to reach the working muscles and organs as fast as possible.
For people living with a leaky heart valve higher Intensity exercise may strain the heart valves. This could cause health complications like heart palpitations and even heart attack, hence why we suggest lower intensity exercise.
Understanding Your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
To estimate target heart hate, you could apply a simple formulae. This formula suggests subtracting your age from 220 giving you maximum heart rate. You would then divide this number by 10, then multiply by the new sum by 6 to estimate your 60% target heart rate.
For example, if a subject was at the age of 45, (220-45= 175) the maximum heart rate would be ~175 beats per minute (bpm). You would then divide 175 by 10 giving you a sum of 17.5. We now need to multiply this by 6, which equals 105 bpm (60% of MHR).
As we highlighted, in most cases we should only aim towards 50-60% of maximum heart rate for those who have been diagnosed with a leaky heart valve.
However, these are just rough guidelines and patients will have their own individual limitations. Those living with a leaky heart valve should contact their medical doctor before exercising to establish the most suitable exercise intensity.
Best Exercise For Leaky Heart Valve: 6 Exercises To Follow
Walking is one of the simplest and most easily accessible exercises you could do. You can either engage in light casual or brisk walking, which comes under the bracket of “light-moderate exercise”.
Walking does not place too much tension on the heart valves, yet works the cardiovascular system, helps to burn calories and works the muscles of the lower body. In the long term, walking can help improve overall health.
My suggestion would be to download a step tracker on your smartphone device. This allows you to set personal walking goals. Otherwise, you could simply aim for 30 minutes of walking per day in line with “better health” guidelines.
There are many ways to include walking into your exercise program, which include:
- Treadmill walking
- Footpath walking
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or automatic staircase
- Parking further away from your destination
- Opt to walk to local destination opposed to taking a vehicle
Light swimming is another great way of exercising for those living with a leaky heart valve. Swimming draws similar benefits to walking with less loading on the joints, therefore it may suit special populations like the elderly or disabled.
The only problem with swimming is that it is more difficult to access than simple walking. You would have to visit specific locations like leisure centers and spas. If you enjoy swimming, I would suggest 30 minutes of swimming once per week, which can contribute towards one of your five recommended weekly aerobic sessions.
Some people prefer swimming to other forms of exercise, thereby they have the option to include more than one session of swimming per week, if possible.
Cycling is a lower body dominant exercise that would tap into the cardiovascular system. Generally, 30 minutes of light cycling with controlled movements should be effective for those living with a leaky heart valve.
To engage in cycling you either need a road bicycle to cycle through the roads or a static indoor bicycle, which can be found in most if not all commercial gyms. The only problem is that not everyone can afford to buy a road bike or gym membership.
Resistance Band Or Light Dumbell Based Strength Training
Light resistance band based strength training can offer many benefits with minimal strain on the heart for those living with a valvular heart disease, unlike heavy lifting.
Not only with resistance band based strength training work the cardiovascular system, but may also stimulate skeletal muscle activation.
In the longer term, this can help minimize the loss of age-related skeletal muscle. Possessing a “healthy” amount of muscle mass has been linked to better mobility, higher metabolic rate, reduced body weight from fat, and healthy functioning organs. Furthermore, it may reduce fall risk and blunt force injuries like bone fractures and muscle sprains/tears.
The ACSM recommends at least two resistance training sessions per week, with 8-10 exercises per session, 1-3 sets per exercise, and 10-15 reps per set. For more personalized resistance training advice, you could consult with an exercise professional.
Some examples of resistance band exercises could include:
- Standing bicep curls
- Overhead tricep extensions
- Shoulder flies
- Chest flies
- Upright rows
Yoga involves deep breathing to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. This is combined with light physical activity that can work all of the muscles and get blood flow around the body. Most importantly, it is highly unlikely that yoga would place too much strain on the heart. You have the option to participate in yoga by yourself or a group instructed class lasting ~30-45 minutes.
Stretching exercise helps lower blood pressure and enhances heart health. It extends and contracts the muscle, hence why we consider it as a form of exercise. You could use stretching at any time but it is generally used as part of a warm-up to make the soft tissues of the body more pliable.
In most cases, stretching requires no equipment and can be done practically anywhere, so long as you use a clean and hazard-free surface.
Some examples of sketches include:
- Seated hamstring stretch
- Standing hamstring stretch
- Quadricep stretch
- Neck roll
- Hip rotations
- Shoulder roll
- Ankle roll
- Knee to chest stretch
- Behind the neck tricep stretch
Factors To Consider Before Doing Exercise
Consult With Your Doctor
We stress this point once again, ALWAYS consult with your medical doctor before starting any new exercise interventions. The medical doctor will determine if exercise is safe for you and what type of intensity you should be observing based on the type and severity of your condition.
In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist who may have a better understanding of how to exercise with a leaky heart valve. Those living with leaky heart valves have greater risks of fainting or heart attack. For this reason, these individuals should never exercise alone, in case the emergency services need to be called immediately.
Warming Up Before Exercise
Warming up can help your heart get into the rhythm of pumping blood around the body, in preparation for more intense exercise (50-60% intensity). For example, if your estimated walking speed will be 5 km per hour, you could start at 1 km and gradually increase the speed by 1 km every minute until you get to your planned intensity.
Cool Down After Exercise
On the opposite side of the spectrum, a cool down lowers the heart rate towards the resting state. I would suggest 5-10 minutes of slowly lowering the intensity that you apply to exercise. For example, if you are walking at 4-5 km per hour, slowly reduce the speed by 1-2 km every 2-3 minutes, which should bring the heart rate down.
All in all, we have learned that a leaky heart valve is caused by an impairment in the functioning of the heart. In some cases, It causes the heart to work a lot harder where individuals may be at risk of health complications like heart failure.
Those living with this condition would benefit from an intensity of 50-60% of their maximum heart rate, which in most cases would be below 100 bpm.
To figure out your maximum heart rate you could use a simple formula of 220-age, then work within 50-60% of that heart rate in bpm. An intensity of 65% may work for some, depending on the severity of the condition.
Based on this training intensity we have discussed 6 exercises, which are effective for overall health and relatively easy to do.
My last take home message is to consult your medical doctor before taking on any new exercise interventions. If you do get the go ahead, a light warm and cooldown would be considerable during your session.
Frequently Asked Questions
According to the Cleveland clinic, 10% of the population get diagnosed with a leaky heart valve. People with mild conditions live long lives without the need for medical treatment.
Unless the condition is affecting the quality of your life and affecting health, it does not require treatment; however some individuals may benefit from high blood supplements for the heart to minimize blood leak. For severe cases of leaky heart valve, treatments include: Surgery to reconstruct the valve, Surgery to place a clip on the valve, Surgery to place a device to replicate the functions of a valve, Surgery to replace the valve from a deceased human or animal.
+ 6 sources
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- Esco, M.R. (2013). Resistance Training for Health and Fitness. [online] Available at: https://www.prescriptiontogetactive.com/static/pdfs/resistance-training-ACSM.pdf.
- Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Leaky Heart Valve: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. [online] Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21484-leaky-heart-valve-mitral-valve-regurgitation#:~:text=A%20leaky%20valve%20can%20contribute,alcohol%2C%20smoking%20and%20illegal%20drugs