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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Disch

Cardiopulmonary Disease and Rehab

Cardiopulmonary disease is a disease that describes a range of conditions that affect not only the heart but the lungs as well. The heart and lungs are both organs that are closely connected so you might guess that a problem in one can often spill over into the other. For example, if the heart is not able to pump blood efficiently, oxygen movement in the lungs is reduced and in turn, can cause shortness of breath. This can work both ways, such as a problem with the lungs can make the heart work harder to get oxygen from the lungs to the blood. This is one of the main reasons why when someone is experiencing unusual shortness of breath a stress test will be ordered to see if the heart is pumping efficiently. Cardiopulmonary rehab may be necessary if you’ve experienced a recent heart attack, had heart surgery, suffer from chronic bronchitis, congestive heart failure, emphysema, or most recently COVID-19.

Exercise and Rehabilitation

You can think of exercise as the best medicine. An inactive lifestyle and poor dietary habits can lead to two of the biggest health problems, both for your heart and lungs. Some benefits of exercise are that it can help lower your blood pressure, provide better control of diabetes and blood sugar, improve your sleep patterns, and help to decrease high cholesterol levels. When starting an exercise regimen it’s important to figure out what your maximum heart rate is for your age. The easiest way to do that is to take 220 and subtract your age. That would be considered your maximum heart rate and it's important to remember we do not want to reach the maximum after suffering from a cardiopulmonary event. You can find your own pulse on your wrist and count how many beats your heart is beating for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. That will give you a general idea of what your heart rate currently is.

Warming Up

Before starting any physical activity it is most important to always start with a warm-up. The warm-up phase allows you to gradually increase the workload of your heart and allows time for it to adapt slowly to the increasing demands. This is important because it helps reduce the risk of chest pain and disturbances in your heart rhythm by making sure that the coronary arteries are dilated and your heart has a good supply of oxygen. When rehabbing your heart and/or lungs after an injury it’s important to do a warm-up for about 15 minutes using an effort scale of about 1-2 out of 10. When completing a cardiopulmonary rehab program, your target heart rate will be unique to you and your diagnosis. Unfortunately, where your target heart rate needs to be while exercising is not a one-size-fits-all decision. Instead, while exercising, try using the "Talk Test". Try talking while exercising and if you're unable to complete full sentences and gasping for air, you are probably working too hard. Exercising anywhere between 15-20 minutes when rehabbing your heart and/or lungs is a great place to start. You want to start off slowly, gradually increasing time as you are able to tolerate exercise.

Cooling Down

Much like a warm-up, a cool-down period is just as important to help your body return to its normal state pre-exercise. The cool-down period gradually returns your heart rate to pre-exercise levels, helps prevent blood from pooling in your legs to avoid dizziness, and helps regulate blood flow. A proper cool-down also helps prevent DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness. Abruptly stopping exercise without cooling down can put additional stress on the cardiovascular system which is especially delicate when rehabbing.

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