I am trying to regain fitness after being diagnosed with microvascular angina and high blood pressure. I take medication. I have been very fit until recently. The doctors say exercise is fine, as my body will tell me what the limitations are. I can run for about 15 minutes before getting pain. Do you have any guidance?
Yours is an unusual condition, sometimes called “cardiac syndrome X”, in which you get chest pains but without any visible signs of heart disease. There is no clear explanation for the cause of this syndrome, although menopausal women seem to be particularly susceptible to it.
Clearly you must heed the advice of your doctors, as they know about the specifics of your case. There are a couple of exercise-related suggestions I can add.
Whenever you are building up again after ill-health or a layoff from being fit, plan a gradual, steady increase in your routine, to avoid straining and damaging tendons, knee joints, shin bones etc.
For you, the onset of chest pain is a clear stop signal. Slow right down to a walk until you’ve cleared the pain, then gently pick up the pace again. As you recover your fitness, you should find it takes longer for pain to come on each time. This is actually a useful measure of progress for you.
Monitor how hard you are working, trying to stick within an effort level of 5 to 7.5 out of 10. This moderate but not too easy pace of work will optimise the health benefits you need.
Make it a priority to reduce your blood pressure (even though you are on medication), as this is an unwelcome complicating factor for your condition. Check thoroughly that you have cut right down on salt and bad fats. Try to do a 30-minute cardio workout every day: this helps to keep your blood pressure lower throughout the day. Also very helpful would be circuit training with weights twice a week – most gyms run such sessions. Use moderate weights; the types of fitness gains will be very beneficial for your blood pressure.
Try out other gym machines such as the cross-trainer or rower as an alternative to running. These lower-impact cardio workouts will also strengthen upper-body muscles. Once you have got used to them, they should help your goal of improving fitness endurance without bringing on chest pain.