Hard exercise and heart operations DO go together

Q. Earlier this year, at the age of 74, I had a stent put in my heart. I’d been getting angina attacks, and the operation has sorted the problem out. I feel fine now but my son keeps telling me I should be doing high-intensity exercise, going flat-out for short bursts. This sounds dangerous to me. But is my son right?

A. Anyone who has had heart surgery will feel nervous or anxious about their health. But at the same time it is important to remember that we need to be using the very machinery that we are concerned about in order to maintain its full working health and fitness.

If you don’t use that heart muscle once a stent has been inserted you are effectively fixing one problem only to create another down the line. A stent is there in order to allow someone to use their body in the way to is supposed to be used.

I’ll add some caveats before answering the question in full, though.

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If your blood pressure is high, if you are taking medication to control your heart rate or if you still have any pains around your chest area, ask your doctor before you start pushing yourself hard.

If these don’t apply, however, I would say that it is imperative that someone who has had a stent inserted starts to overload their heart and lungs again.

We need to test and strengthen the heart muscle and the only way to do that is to raise the working level and become out of breath and somewhat fatigued. A great way to overload is to do structured interval training. Work for 30-40 seconds at a level you could describe as seven or eight out of ten, then recover for 90 seconds and repeat four times.

Take a rest for three minutes and then repeat the same series for a total of three circuits, thereby completing 12 actual reps of the raised intensity. This approach will keep the quality high, provide overload to the correct degree and ensure that you can measure how you feel without becoming overwhelmed suddenly.

The heart is a muscle and all muscles need exercise. Anyone with a stent is effectively being given a second chance that otherwise would not have existed. Use it, don’t lose it.

Q. Last year, I was diagnosed with hip arthritis. It causes me a great deal of pain, but doctors say it’s not bad enough for a hip replacement. As a busy lawyer, my main exercise was a very brisk daily three-mile walk with my dog before work, which I loved. But it’s just too painful now. I have piled on a good couple of stone, which is probably making matters worse. What can I do? I’m 65 years old.

A. As good as hip-replacement surgery has become, it’s still major surgery – which is why doctors are cautious about carrying it out.

When your joint functions well enough to carry on everyday activities but is also bad enough to cause you pain, it is extremely frustrating. And while brisk walking might be a problem, there are exercises you can do at home that will help stabilise the joint, potentially reducing the pain and helping to make you more mobile. 

The aim is to build up the muscles around the joint so there is minimum movement away from the norm. The hip is able to articulate in all directions and has a lot of muscles engaged to make it do so. To help to keep the joint from losing stability and causing further pain you need to develop strength in the glutes (buttocks), hip flexors, quads, hamstrings and abductors. After two weeks of doing these exercises every other day, you may feel ready to do them two days on, one day off.


Standing with one foot forward and one behind you, arms naturally by your sides, bend both knees to 90 degrees and then stand and repeat 15 to 20 times. Change sides and do three to four sets for each side.


Get on your back, on the floor. Place your heels on a chair, knees bent with your arms on the floor by your sides. Raise your body, pelvis first, up and down off the ground and repeat for 20 to 30 reps, three to four sets.


Lie on your side with your knees bent. Keeping your feet together, raise your top knee away from the bottom one, in a clam movement. Go as high as you can, squeezing the buttock and hip muscles, and then lower it back down. Do 20 to 30 reps, in three to four sets.


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