I am 71 and had my second heart attack eight weeks ago. I am told I do not need further treatment. I am keen to get back to golf; do you think it is to early?
One of the success stories of the National Health Service in recent years is to have reversed our very high national rates of death from heart disease. This is the result of several improvements, from emergency treatment after a heart attack to identifying people at risk before they ever get serious heart disease, and helping those with heart conditions to make lifestyle changes so they will live longer and in better health.
As with so much in the NHS, however, it seems that services vary depending on where you live. The official aim is that everyone who has suffered a heart attack should go through a four-phase “Cardiac Rehabilitation” programme, which helps them to get back to a normal and healthy long-term lifestyle. The programme includes clinical support and advice, nutritional guidance, relaxation counselling and carefully supervised exercise.
It sounds to me as though you have not been through an official “Cardiac Rehab” scheme, and if that’s the case, I would strongly recommend that you do, if there is one within a reasonable distance. Find out by asking your hospital or GP, or by checking the list of schemes on the British Heart Foundation’s website.
If you do join a Cardiac Rehab scheme, specialist staff will put you through an exercise test, so they can give you very specific advice about the kind, amount and level of exercise you should be doing.
In general, the priority after a heart attack is “cardiovascular” or “aerobic” exercise: continuous rhythmic activity that makes your heart and lungs work harder than normal. Provided you build up gradually you will be strengthening your heart muscle and improving your fitness. Indeed, it is quite common these days for people to become much fitter after their heart attack than they had been for years beforehand.
Walking is an excellent cardiovascular activity, as are swimming and cycling. So you might think the golf is OK, as it involves a lot of walking. But do watch out: if the golf course is, for instance, particularly hilly or on difficult ground, you may be working your heart harder than is advisable at this stage. Eight weeks is not a very long recovery time for a heart, and on a Cardiac Rehab scheme you might be advised to spend as much as six months building up your fitness levels under supervision before returning to your golf.
If Cardiac Rehab is not an option, ask your GP about “exercise referral” schemes, where you could still have the benefit of a skilled trainer to support you as you get back to full fitness. You may also want to consider a gentle yoga class or something similar that concentrates on breathing and relaxation, to keep unhealthy stress from becoming a threat to your heart.