Online Resources for Heart Health

Being diagnosed with a heart condition can be overwhelming, but many risk factors that affect your heart health can be controlled. The resources in this library are designed to provide you with the information to help you improve your heart health. Your rehab team will encourage you to review these resources during your time in the program.

Click on any of the icons listed below to jump to the resources for that topic or simply scroll down the page.

Be Active

Your Heart Health

Manage Stress

Eat Well

  Be Active

Be Active Icon

Learn about how to safely start exercising to improve your heart health.

Additional Resources to Support Being Active
Your rehab team may recommend these resources to support your training.

Safety Considerations for Activities

Medications
Medications should be taken at least 1.5 to 2 hours before exercise. If you are prescribed nitroglycerin, remember to carry it with you. If you have questions about the timing of your medications, please speak to a healthcare team member. Avoid nicotine (patch, inhaler or cigarettes) and cannabis products 3-hours before and 1-hour after activity or exercise. Always bring an up-to-date copy of your medication list with you.

Temperature
Avoid outdoor activities in extreme heat or cold as these temperatures make your heart work harder. Remember to dress appropriately for the weather and activity (e.g. layers, sunscreen, hat). Choose breathable fabrics that wick away sweat and help to regulate body temperature. Dress in lighter layers versus heavier ones. Avoid saunas, hot tubs, or hot showers after activity or exercise. Your body temperature rises during activity, so it is important to consider the temperature for your activity. If indoors, you may consider opening windows or placing a fan nearby.

Food and Water
Always carry water with you to keep hydrated before, during, and after activity. Eating a well-balanced meal 2 hours before activity is ideal. If this is not possible, eat a small snack 20-30 minutes before (e.g. fruit, nuts/seeds).

Intensity
During any activity you should always pass the Talk Test (i.e. speak 5-6 words comfortably). If you can only speak one or two words and are gasping for air, you are working too hard.  Refer to section 2 of the Guide to Exercise for a refresher on how to monitor intensity.

Symptoms
Avoid activity during illness or infection. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, have any symptoms or feel uncomfortable, stop what you are doing and sit down. Drink some water. If you experience any chest pain or discomfort, stop what you are doing, sit down and call 911. Follow the nitroglycerin protocol if you are prescribed nitro-spray.

Yoga

What to look for

  • Beginner classes, restorative/relaxation, therapeutic classes
  • Hatha, Yin, Iyengar (beginner), Nidra (meditation)

Avoid

  • Hot or heated classes
  • Postures where your head is below your heart for a prolonged period of time (e.g. downward dog - hold for 2-3 breaths only)
  • Postures where you are holding an engaged position (e.g. plank - keep moving)
  • Postures that cause pain
  • Styles such as Hot, Power, Flow, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Moksha, Bikram

Special considerations

  • Osteoporosis/Osteopenia - avoid excessive spine movement (flexion/rotation)
  • Hip Replacement - avoid excessive hip movement (internal/external rotation)
  • Sternotomy (open heart surgery) - wait 8-12 weeks before starting
  • Knee Replacement - use caution with kneeling
  • Postural Hypotension (low blood pressure) - elevate head if lying down, change positions slowly and avoid quick changes in posture
Golfing

If you had open heart surgery, please speak to your surgeon about your sternal (chest) stability before playing golf.

General Information

  • Aerobic exercise and core training will reduce your risk of injury and increase your performance.
  • Strength, balance, and flexibility training will improve your balance, coordination, and power.

Avoid

  • Carrying your clubs until you build your strength.
  • Walking the course until you build your fitness level.

Starting back safely

  • Start with riding a cart, gradually progress to walking 9 holes, then walking 18 holes.
  • Walk the course but have a partner carry your clubs on the cart.
  • Pull your clubs using a pull cart for 9 holes, and progress to 18 holes after a few weeks.
  • If you feel good, you can progress to carrying your clubs.
Hiking

General Information

  • Always hike with a partner or in a group.
  • Pack snacks and bring 1-2 litres of water with you.
  • Check hiking trail difficulty.

Avoid

  • Exercising at a somewhat hard/moderate intensity (talk test/ratings of perceived exertion scale), or at your target heart rate, for longer than 1-hour. For hikes longer than one hour, stay in the light intensity zone.
  • High altitudes until you are comfortable with exercise at low altitudes. Altitude can increase your heart rate and make your heart work harder.

Equipment + Clothing

  • Trekking poles or old ski poles makes walking easier and more enjoyable.
  • Wear multiple light layers rather than a few big heavy ones.
  • Wear good, supportive shoes when hiking.
Snow shoveling

General Information

  • Shoveling is double duty on your body and heart because it tries to keep you warm and meet the demands from heavy lifting.
  • The combination of your body's response to cold weather and high demands of lifting can increase the risk of a heart event.

Avoid

  • Smoking, caffeine, and eating before shoveling
  • Breathing in cold air directly (cover your mouth with a scarf)
  • Straining

Safety considerations

  • Avoid "throwing" the snow.
  • Use smaller shovel and take off 2-inches at a time.
  • Take breaks and only clear necessary paths.
  • Pay attention to your signs and symptoms.
  • Contact snow removal programs in your neighbourhood or community.

Your Heart Health

Medication icon colour

Learn more about heart disease, risk factors and medications.

Frequently Asked Questions

It is normal to questions about your health following a heart event or surgery. Listed here are some of the most common questions participants have when first starting out in the program.

When can I drive?

The time will vary depending on the type of license you have, the type of heart event you had, and your specific heart condition.  Please talk to your doctor about when it is safest for you to resume driving.

If you are a commercial driver, you will likely not be permitted to drive for at least 3 months after having had a heart attack or heart surgery. Please talk to your doctor if you have any questions.

When can I return to work?

Back to work decisions are based on the type of work you do, your heart function and symptoms after your heart attack, event or type of surgery. Your family doctor usually coordinates your return to work using information from your hospital records, follow-up from your cardiologist, and results from any diagnostic tests, including your exercise stress test and rehabilitation progress reports. Although the cardiac rehabilitation program does not complete insurance forms, it does provide your family doctor with information that can be used in the decision-making process.

Should I get the annual influenza (flu ) vaccine?

After a heart attack or heart event, it is important to protect yourself from developing conditions which lead to inflammatory responses in your body, such as a common cold, flu, or pneumonia.  Getting your annual flu shot, in addition to proper sleep, a healthy diet and physical activity, is your best protection against illness. 

Several studies have shown that patients with a heart condition who get the influenza vaccine have fewer heart attacks. For more information on influenza, visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/influenza./

When can I travel?

This will be determined by your family doctor and depends on your heart function, length of travel, and your mode of transportation (e.g., airplane or by car). 

If you are considered clinically stable to travel by your doctor, please ensure you take the necessary steps to get adequate travel insurance.  Most insurance companies will require that you have stable medications for a minimum of 3-6 months (depending on the insurance company) before they will insure you for travel outside the country.  Please consult your insurance company to confirm this information.  You must let your insurance company know that you have had a heart attack or heart event, when your last change in medications was, as well as any procedures or treatments you’ve had.

Is it ok to drink alcohol?

Drinking too much of any type of alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood and may increase blood pressure.  We recommend that you avoid alcohol or limit your intake to:

Men – aim for no more than 2-3 standard drinks/ day, with a maximum of 15 per week.

Women – aim for no more than 1-2 standard drink(s)/day, with a maximum of 10 per week.

A standard drink is:

  • 12-ounce bottle of beer
  • 5-ounce glass of wine
  • 5-ounce shot of spirits
When can I resume sexual activity?

Many patients who have had a heart event worry about whether or not it is safe for them to resume sexual activity. The maximum heart rate during usual sexual activity is similar to other daily activities such as walking or climbing two flights of stairs and is usually safe for low-risk patients.

If you have no symptoms during your exercise stress test and if the doctor tells you that you can start exercise, then it is likely safe for you to resume sexual activity. 

If you have not had your exercise stress test but you are able to climb two flights of stairs without symptoms, talk to your doctor to decide if it is safe for you to resume sexual activity. 

If you cannot start exercise based on your exercise stress test results or for ongoing symptoms, check with your doctor to see when you can resume sexual activity.

How long after having a stent placed can dental work be done?

After a stent placement, it is generally recommended to wait four to six weeks before having any dental work done, including teeth cleaning, unless your cardiologist advises otherwise.

Antibiotics are not necessary with stents. For patients with various heart valve problems, including artificial heart valves, congenital heart disease and those who have previously experienced endocarditis, antibiotics are needed prior to having dental work and some other medical procedures done and should be discussed with your cardiologist.

My dentist has asked that I stop taking my medications until after my appointment. Is it safe for me to do this?

Your dentist's office should contact your cardiologist to find out if it is safe for you to stop taking any medications and for how long, prior to your appointment. This is especially important if your dentist has asked you to stop taking ASA, Brilinta, Coumadin Effient, Eliquis, Plavix, Pradaxa or Xarelto. 

Every patient’s medical history is different and therefore this issue needs to be addressed on an individual basis by your cardiologist in consultation with your dentist. Stopping these medications can be dangerous for some patients.

Will I need to take heart medications for the rest of my life?

In most circumstances, you will be on some medications long-term to prevent the progression of heart disease and another heart attack or heart event.

Who prescribes my medications? How does my doctor know the medications that I should be on?

Your family doctor is responsible for monitoring your prescriptions and providing medication refills after you have been discharged from the hospital. Your family doctor will also receive recommendations from the cardiologist who saw you in hospital.  However, during the first 12-weeks of the rehabilitation program, your heart medications may be adjusted by our program doctors as needed (depending on your response to these medications).  Our program doctors will provide your family doctor and cardiologists with your exercise stress test results and any medication  recommendations based on these tests. 

What supports are available to help me quit smoking?

There are many resources available to help you quit smoking. Here is a list of options:

  • Albertaquits.ca – provides many options to help Albertans quit smoking
  • Pharmacy – many pharmacist are trained in smoking cessation
  • TotalCardiology program doctors and nurses – can help with getting started on smoking cessation within the 3 months from cardiac event.
  • Your family doctor – many family doctor’s clinics have resources for quitting smoking and can provide guidance on medications

Additional Resources For Managing Risk Factors and Medications
Your rehab team may recommend these resources to help you in managing your heart health.

Manage Stress

Manage Stress Icon colour

Learn more about how stress can affect heart health and strategies to help you manage stress.

Additional Tools + Resources For Managing Stress 
These additional resources can support you in managing your stress and sleep.

Eat Well for Heart Health

Eat Well Icon colour

Learn more about heart healthy eating and diet patterns.

Additional Resources to Support Healthy Eating 
These resources can help you to develop heart healthy eating patterns.

Nutrition Consultation Resources

Resources to support individuals who have a nutrition consultation/appointment with our program dietitian.