Heart attack survivors need exercise, not rest, to keep healthy

You’d think if a person had two heart attacks within three years, the prescription would be to take it easy and avoid exertion.

You’d be wrong.

Loren Nelson, 78, of Champaign (pictured here), faithfully follows doctor’s orders and exercises twice weekly to keep his heart healthy.

“I had my first heart attack in 2011 and was diagnosed with coronary artery disease. I then had another in 2013,” Nelson said. After each heart attack, his doctors recommended cardiac rehab.

“A couple of heart attacks are a great motivator,” Nelson quipped. He started exercising after his first heart attack and knows it’s important to keep going.

Nelson now is participating in Phase III cardiac rehab. He’s advanced from Phase II rehab which is doctor prescribed to Phase III rehab that allows heart patients to exercise at their own pace and schedule.

Nelson has a rigorous exercise routine that might challenge people half his age. After stretching, he walks for 30 minutes on the treadmill. “I’m trying for 40 minutes,” Nelson added. He then works out on a bicycle or elliptical machine and lifts weights – 9-pound dumbbells in each hand.

“The staff know their business and know how to take care of us,” Nelson said. “They also do a great job encouraging us.”

“It is extremely important for patients with heart disease to continue with regular exercise to keep the heart healthy, to decrease their risk for future heart problems and maintain quality of life,” said Joella Evans, CCRP, MS, cardiovascular technician and exercise specialist supervisor at Carle Heart and Vascular Institute.

One added benefit of working out through a cardiac rehab program is having degreed exercise specialists overseeing activity. Cardiac rehab also provides a social network for heart patients. Patients can go to Phase III cardiac rehab at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Carle on Vermilion in Danville and the Heart and Vascular Institute facility in Mattoon on Lerna Road. The fee is $5 per session.

To cover that cost, many enroll in a Medicare Advantage insurance plan and join Silver Sneakers. “Patients are eligible to access the exercise program for free as part of their health plan,” Evans (pictured here) explained.

Health Alliance Medical Plans offers Medicare Advantage options that cover Phase III rehab.

Evans hopes more people with heart disease take advantage of Phase III rehab and she’s proud of Nelson’s progress.

How far has Loren Nelson come? He plans on participating in a 5K race this year.