Since pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) often causes shortness of breath, swelling, and fatigue, exercise may seem like the last thing you should do. But the right kind — with your doctor’s approval — can help with symptoms and enhance quality of life.
How does exercise help?
Almost any way you cut it, exercise is good medicine.
“We call sitting the new smoking,” says Eugene Chung, MD, chair of the American College of Cardiology’s Leadership Council, and professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan. “If you live a lifestyle that predominantly sits in motion, the biggest impact on your life, health-wise, is getting up and starting to move around a lot.”
Regular exercise helps the heart and body to work smarter rather than harder. It keeps the blood vessels in good condition and reduces inflammation. All of these have a positive effect on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Here’s how: PAHs compress the right ventricle of your heart. This stress starts a series of changes in your body. One such symptom is a bump in adrenaline, the hormone that triggers the “fight or flight” response.
“Several studies have shown that exercise helps reduce inflammation and trains the heart to respond to increased adrenaline,” Chung says.
This improves your peak heart rate during exercise. This is the number of beats per minute your heart can safely pump when you exercise. It also lowers blood pressure, which helps prevent a cascade of changes from happening in the first place.
In short, exercise helps break the cycle of worsening PAH symptoms.
The best way to move
“Any exercise program should be started in consultation with your doctors, and you should be followed up regularly,” Chung says.
Your doctor understands your limitations and can tell you what’s acceptable. Ideally, you’ll exercise under the supervision of a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program. As for what type of exercise is best, Chung says they focus on aerobic activity. This is the kind that gets your heart pumping, not the isometric movements that make you hold your muscles in a contracting position or a high-resistance exercise like weightlifting.
To get your blood pumping, you can try:
Walking. Get your steps on the treadmill or by taking a quick walk around your area. Aim for one-hour sessions three times a week.
swimming. Exercising in the water works your muscles without straining your joints. You can do water aerobics or simply swim.
Cycling. Bicycles and recumbent bikes are a safe way to get around without the risk of falling.
Other types of exercises include:
Yoga. Although there isn’t a lot of research on the direct benefits of yoga over PAHs, its slow, mindful stretching reduces stress and reduces inflammation in your body.
Light resistance training. You can keep your muscles flexible and strong by using light weights (cans of soup can work well) or just using your own body weight. A rehabilitation professional can teach you movements like chair squats, wall push-ups, calf raises, bicep curls, and more.
It is important not to lift heavy weights as they may exacerbate symptoms.
“If you’re going to push it and do more weight lifting with more intensity, there’s a chance that, depending on the cause of your pulmonary hypertension, you can increase the pressure on the right side of the heart,” Chung says.
You are likely to hold your breath while lifting as well, which raises the pressure in your chest cavity.
what are you watching
As with any exercise routine, watch out for signs you’ve done too much. Consider these safety tips:
- Work out at a time of the day when you feel the best and have the most energy.
- Do not exercise alone: try to sweat with a friend.
- Never hold your breath while exercising.
- Always warm up before exercising and cool down afterwards.
- Start small and do more once your body is ready.
Tell your doctor about any worrisome side effects, such as swelling or more shortness of breath than usual.