The Physically Fit Factor
“Physical endurance is about developing your cardiopulmonary reserve,” explains Pratik Desai, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Cary Cardiology and medical director of WakeMed Cary Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation at Kraft Family YMCA. “It’s the aerobic activities you do to increase your breathing and heart rate. Building your endurance by participating in regular aerobic activity gives you the energy and ability to complete the tasks of daily life.”
How does physical endurance impact recovery from heart disease or a heart procedure? “Cardiac, orthopaedic, it doesn’t really matter what procedure you had,” says Dr. Desai. “If you are in good physical condition beforehand, it’s likely you will enjoy a faster, better recovery.”
Dr. Desai adds that it is during the rehabilitation phase after a procedure in which you feel the benefit of having that cardiac reserve – that physical endurance. If you have a good cardiopulmonary reserve, your muscles (including your heart!) are more efficient than those of someone who has led a sedentary life and the muscles quickly remember how to be active. Because of this and the increased cardiopulmonary capacity you have, it’s likely your rehabilitation will be shorter after a procedure.
Dr. Desai points out another important benefit of physical endurance. “People who have that cardiopulmonary reserve can often avoid a stay in an intermediate care facility before they are ready to go home.”
You don’t have to be a triathlete to have good cardiopulmonary reserve. If you have good joints, whether it's walking, running, bicycling, dancing – they are all great physical endurance builders when you do them most days of the week for 30 minutes. You can even break up those 30 minutes into 10-minute intervals of exercise that you do three times a day. Dr. Desai recommends low-impact cardiovascular activity such as water aerobics and riding a stationary bike for those who have problems with their joints such as knees and hips.
The Mind Game
“Mental endurance is much more complicated than the physical side, and it is almost more important,” states Dr. Desai. Mental endurance is your ability to cope with difficult circumstances. “A negative frame of mind can prevent you from coping with an illness or injury and the often long road to recovery.”
Recovery from heart disease requires a special kind of mental toughness. For many patients, the surprise of a cardiac event like a heart attack can be extremely emotional. “That realization that you are not as healthy as you thought can be life changing,” says Dr. Desai.
Depression is a potential side effect of heart disease. People who have positive attitudes before a cardiac event are less likely to suffer from deep depression and are more likely to make a successful recovery.
“Though exercise is proven to help lift your mood, you can’t just open your front door and do 30 minutes of a mental endurance activity,” explains Dr. Desai. “Yes, you can do things to reduce stress, but, ultimately a positive attitude and the will to recover and change your lifestyle are personal and come from within. You have to want it and work for it.”
J. Mark Englehardt, MD, and his wife,
Audrey Schipprack, RN
“I have a rather unique technique to maintain physical endurance. I live with an elite endurance athlete! My wife, Audrey Schipprack, RN (who has worked in the WakeMed Cardiovascular Surgery ICU since 1995), has run multiple marathons (including the Boston Marathon five times) and longdistance triathlons (including this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship.)
While I could never muster the kind of dedication that she has (up to four hours running/biking/swimming a day when preparing for an Ironman — whether raining, snowing or 100-degree heat outside), there is one suggestion she always makes that really seems to work: Set goals for your exercise with specific deadlines for yourself. This really helps prevent too much procrastination as only so much time is available.
So if you’ve always wanted to do the Heart Walk, ride your bike in the Tour de Cure or MS Bike Ride (even for only the 15-mile route), run a mile or a 5k Fun Run, just sign up for it now. You’ll know exactly how much time you have and will be unable to refer to “someday” as that day is known. You’ll probably even make some new friends doing the very same thing. Just don't try to race against Audrey.”
— J. Mark Englehardt, MD,