If you have heart disease and undergo angioplasty with stenting to keep your heart arteries open so blood can flow freely, you likely have questions about your recovery, including when you can start exercising again.
During angioplasty, your surgeon inserts a balloon-tipped catheter into a blocked heart artery to widen it and boost your blood flow. Sometimes a stent, a tiny mesh tube, will be inserted into the artery to prop it open and improve blood flow to your heart. Stents are also used to reduce chest pain known as angina, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
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Stenting is not without its share of risks. There's a small chance a blood clot can form inside the stent, blocking blood flow. Your doctor will likely prescribe aspirin or other medication to help prevent this from occurring, per the AHA.
If the angioplasty procedure is elective, you will probably spend one night in the hospital. Most people return to work or their normal routine the week after angioplasty, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes, though, angioplasty procedures are not elective. Instead, they're performed during a potentially life-threatening event such as a heart attack.
Returning to Exercise After Stent Surgery
When you can start to exercise again after having a stent inserted doesn't come with a one-size-fits-all answer, says Manesh Raman Patel, MD, chief of cardiology at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.
For instance, don't lift heavy objects — including weights — for at least a day after an angioplasty procedure, per the Mayo Clinic. Be sure to ask your doctor if you have any specific questions about weightlifting.
As for exercise in general, "current recommendations are to wait at least 3 to 5 days, depending on the procedure, before starting cardiac rehab and low-intensity exercise," Dr. Patel says. That said, your heart function and the number of blockages in your heart arteries factor into your individual exercise recommendations, he says.
Cardiac rehab is a doctor-supervised program that aims to improve your heart health after a heart attack, angioplasty or another type of heart surgery, per the AHA. Most cardiac rehab programs include 60-minute sessions two to three times a week for 12 weeks, and the sessions are usually covered by insurance, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Don't start any exercise before getting the green light from your doctor, Dr. Patel says. Before giving you the all-clear, your doctor may order an exercise stress test, which shows how your heart will respond to exercise. For this test, you start by walking slowly on a treadmill, and the speed is gradually increased as is the incline, according to the AHA.
It's also important to ease into your new exercise program. After stenting, "we ask patients to do stretching and lower-intensity activity at the start of rehab, but depending on where the catheterization was done, the exercises are tailored," Dr. Patel explains.
That's because, during the angioplasty procedure, your doctor placed the catheter either in your femoral artery, which is in your groin, or in your radial artery in your wrist, he says.
Returning to Healthy Habits Beyond Exercise
If you were experiencing chest pain before your stenting procedure, it will likely resolve and you may be better able to exercise. Still, it's important to implement other healthy lifestyle changes because angioplasty and stenting are not cure-alls.
This includes eating a heart-healthy diet that's low in saturated fat, maintaining a normal weight and quitting smoking if you smoke. Managing other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, is also essential. Talk to your doctor to make sure you're doing all you can to protect your heart.
- AHA: “Heart Procedures and Surgeries”
- Mayo Clinic: “Coronary Angioplasty and Stents”
- Manesh Raman Patel, MD, chief, Division of Cardiology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina
- AHA: “Cardiac Rehab”
- AHA: “Exercise Stress Test”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Exercising After Heart Surgery”
- AHA: "What is a Stent?"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.