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Side Effects of Exercise With a Cardiac Pacemaker

by
author image D.M. Gutierrez
A freelance writer for more than 30 years, D.M. Gutierrez has had nonfiction, fiction and poetry published in women's, mystery, academic, children's, disability and teen print publications and websites including "Psychological Reports" and "Highlights for Children." She has an advanced degree in psychology from the University of California at Davis.
Side Effects of Exercise With a Cardiac Pacemaker
Close-up of a pacemaker on a white counter. Photo Credit bdspn/iStock/Getty Images

Having a cardiac pacemaker put in typically does not affect an active lifestyle, according to the American Heart Association. Side effects usually occur only if the pacemaker is not operating properly or the underlying condition worsens. Before starting any exercise program, consult your doctor and undergo post-operative and pre-exercise testing. Avoiding certain types of exercise and environments can extend the life of your pacemaker and insure its proper functioning.

Side Effects

People with cardiac pacemakers are usually able to return to their pre-implantation lifestyle, including active exercise, according to the American Heart Association. Some side effects to watch out for -- especially during the six- to seven-week surgical recovery period -- are breathlessness or fatigue, twitching of the chest muscles, and excessive or prolonged hiccuping. An unexpected increase in heart rate or a slower-than-normal pulse rate can also be signals of abnormality. In other words, contact your physician immediately if any of the symptoms of your particular heart problem occur during exercise after you receive a pacemaker.

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Exercises to Avoid

Avoid playing full-contact sports, advises the Heart Rhythm Society, since high impact to the surgical location can damage the pacemaker or its wiring. Also stay away from exercises that require straining or holding your breath, or activities that require explosive movements such as certain forms of weightlifting -- for example, kettlebells or shoulder presses -- and racquetball or tennis.

Before You Exercise

The Cardiac Athletes website notes that a thorough post-op electrocardiogram six or seven weeks after pacemaker implantation and surgical recovery is essential before starting exercise. Your physician can develop a monitored exercise regime based on the results. Once your doctor adjusts your pacemaker to account for increased and variable heart rate changes, he can clear you to exercise on your own.

Considerations

Spending at least 15 minutes both warming up and cooling down, advises Cardiac Athletes. Some motions and postures — certain yoga stretches, golf swings and shoulder presses, for example — can damage the pacemaker. This type of movement, sometimes called a clavicular pinch, can compress the area where the pacemaker or its wiring is located.

Monitor your heart activity during exercise to prevent potential side effects. If chest tightness or pain occurs during exercise, rest for five minutes before resuming physical activity. If tightness or pain does not subside, contact your physician immediately.

Schedule regular checks of your pacemaker to determine battery wear and to adjust it for changing fitness levels and exercise demands.

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