Heart to Hartman

Health Guide for Congenital Heart Disease

Do you need an exercise test?

What is exercise testing? What is the purpose? Why should you do it? There are many ways to assess or test your performance capabilities. In the CHD world, physician mostly want to know your VO2 or maximal oxygen uptake, or peak oxygen uptake. “What! Speak English,” you think. It is basically the highest amount of oxygen a person can consume. Your maximal oxygen uptake correlates with your maximal heart rate . Having a low VO2 for your age can predict hospitalization so we want to have the highest we possibly can. No one wants to go to the hospital! Now, here’s the bad part. those of us with CHD will have a lower VO2 than most people our age. So do not compare yourself to the “norm” Compare yourself to you! Dr. Rachael Cordina references peak O2 uptake in her talk with me on the benefits of exercise for the congenital heart disease population. This test is usually done on a treadmill but can be done on a cycle or arm ergometer, or bike. You will breathe into a mask that is connected to a computer that analyzes the gases you breathe. The work load on the treadmill or bike will increase every few minutes until you can no longer continue. Your blood pressure will be recorded at various intervals. You will also be hooked up to the EKG so your heart rate and rhythm can be assessed. Why bother? Its difficult and expensive! Well, it is a great diagnostic tool for your physician. It lets her/ him know how strong your heart and lung are and what interventions, if any, may be necessary. Additionally, any arrhythmias that are caused by exercise will be detected. Also, if you want to compete at all, you want to know how hard you can go.

You can also assess blood pressure, heart rate and rhythms by just doing a stress test. That’s what I am doing in the picture above. (Thank you Dr. Pinkstaff for your help!) This test is just like a VO2 max test except no mask, thus no gas analyzing. It is great to identify any arrhythmias that may be induced by exercise.

If you just want to know approximately what your maximal VO2 is, there are other test like the three minute step test, the YMCA bike test, or the Cooper walk test that you can do to get an idea of your max. These tests are inexpensive (all should be less than 100.00) and your personal trainer or exercise physiologist can help you. The results from these tests can give you a great starting point for an exercise plan and measure any progress you may make.

There are other assessments you may want to consider. For example. an easy one is flexibility. We may all remember the sit and reach from physical education class, but there are more advanced screenings that your favorite personal trainer or exercise physiologist can do. The results from something like an overhead squat profile or an FMS assessment will be used to build your exercise routine, These screens are key if you plan to exercise at all. Do not start a program without a movement screen and a plan based off your results. I only mentioned two, but there are others. As long as a movement assessment is performed, that’s what matters.

In addition, you can get your body composition assessed. Since lean mass is associated with strength and health, we want to make sure our body composition is in the healthy range. Sorry, but your CHD probably does not effect this so do not use it as an excuse. 😉 Many gyms have a simple biological impedance tool but don’t use it if you have a pace maker. The results are not extremely accurate but it is simple to do. Just know the margin of error is +/- 5-6 %. If you have the chance to use a Bod Pod, Seca scale or ultrasound, then they are more accurate. The Bod Pod is ok to use if you have a pace maker. Some high end gyms may have a Bod Pod. You can also get a good idea if you have a healthy body composition by using a simple tape measure. Measure your waist circumference. Put the tape against your skin at the smallest part of your waist, usually an inch or so above your belly button. Wrap it around you and read the results. It is helpful to get a buddy to do this for you. The healthy range for men is < 40 inches or 100 cm, and less than 35 inches or 88 cm for women. A waist circumference higher than that is associated with higher morbidity and mortality. So if you are above those numbers, then think of a step you can do today to start bringing those numbers down. Consistency is the key!

If you have questions or are interested in health coaching, email me at melconhart96@gmail.com. Please checkout my Youtube channel, Hearttohartman for more ideas and exercises.

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Heart to Hartman

Health Guide for Congenital Heart Disease


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