Understanding Heart Attacks in Gym and Recognizing Alarming Signs After Exercising

Background

In 2021, a famous former Indian cricketer experienced chest pain while using the treadmill. They rushed him to the hospital for further treatment. In the same year, a middle-aged South Indian superstar passed away due to a massive heart attack after working out in the gym. 

We all know that exercise is good for our heart. People are curious about why celebrities die while exercising and can gym cause a heart attack.

Let us begin with understanding how common is heart attacks among young Indians, what causes heart attacks, and how exercise impacts heart health. 

Heart diseases are the most common cause of death in India. Heart problems strike Indians almost 10 years earlier than people in the West. Lifestyle factors like smoking, being overweight, and high blood pressure, combined with Indian ethnicity, contribute to the high heart attack rates among younger Indians below 55 years old.

Young Indians are at high risk of heart attacks
Image Credit: https://www.deccanherald.com/india/whats-wrong-with-young-indians-hearts-1047954.html

Understanding Coronary Artery Disease and Heart attacks 

Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart. Cholesterol buildup (plaque) in blood vessels (atherosclerosis) causes narrowing over time. The affected artery then fails to supply enough oxygen-rich blood to a part of the heart it supplies. This condition is known as coronary artery disease. 

When the heart doesn't get enough blood suddenly, it's called a heart attack. In many cases, a part of the plaque may rupture and form a clot, which then obstructs the blood flow. Reduced blood supply can cause rapid damage to the heart muscle, and symptoms may include chest pain and breathing difficulties.

Coronary artery disease is caused by fatty deposits in the arteries supplying the heart.

The most common risk factors for suffering a heart attack are outlined below. A sedentary lifestyle is an important risk factor for heart disease.

Key risk factors of heart attack

Impact of Physical Activity on Heart Health

Several studies have shown that inactivity increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and heart attacks. Being sedentary or physical inactivity refers to long periods of resting, such as sitting on the couch, watching TV, playing a video game, working on a computer or reading a book.

On the other hand, staying active such as exercising, gardening, doing household chores, etc throughout the day can reduce the risk.

Different studies indicate that the amount of time spent being physically active, rather than how hard the activity is, plays a more important role in maintaining good heart health.

Physical inactivity increases the risk of dying from heart disease while staying active can cut down the risk.
Image Credit: Adobe Stock Images

Exercise Recommendations for Good Heart Health

In general moderate-intensity physical activity is highly recommended for maintaining good heart health

The American Heart Association advises doing moderate-intensity exercises for 30 minutes, 5 days a week or high-intensity exercises for 25 minutes, 3 days a week.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine suggest doing both aerobic exercises like jogging, swimming, or biking, and resistance training like moderate weightlifting. Doing these two types of exercises together helps the most in preventing and managing heart disease.

Physical activities for a healthy heart
Image Credit: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/updated-exercise-guidelines-showcase-the-benefits-to-your-heart-and-beyond

A form of high-intensity exercise known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can benefit some people. It involves doing multiple sets of 1-4 mins of vigorous exercise followed by a period of low-intensity exercise or rest. This form of exercise can be helpful to reduce blood pressure and blood sugar faster when compared to moderate-intensity exercising.

Moderation is the key-avoid overdoing

Yes, indeed, high-intensity exercising in the gym may not be safe for everyone, especially in those with progressing age and in those with existing heart conditions. 

Intense exercising is one of the major causes of heart attacks in the gym. Heart attacks happen when a plaque suddenly dislodges from the arterial wall and blocks the blood supply to the heart. 

Intensity of Exercise | Image Credit: https://twitter.com/jpmrogers/status/1245742562331242498

However, if you compare people who exercise regularly versus those who live a sedentary lifestyle, the baseline risk of heart attack is higher in the latter group. The risk of having a sudden heart event during exercise is very low. It is reported to affect about 3 to 21 per million people annually. It mostly affects men who do not exercise regularly or suddenly start doing high-intensity exercise.

Rules for Safe Exercise

Ensuring a safe exercise routine is paramount to preventing unexpected heart problems during physical activity; adhering to the guidelines below can significantly reduce the risk of sudden heart issues while working out.

  • Start with low-intensity exercising for a couple of days a week, then gradually step up
  • Always consult a doctor before starting going to the gym to understand your underlying risks of heart issues
  • Take breaks in between workouts
  • Stay hydrated and avoid exercising in extreme heat or humidity
  • Get an annual heart check-up done if you participate in a high-intensity exercise program
  • Look for heart attack signs after exercise. In case of symptoms, seek immediate medical help

Heart Attack Signs After Exercise

During exercise, if you start to feel a few of these signs of a heart attack, please stop immediately and seek medical attention.

  • Chest Pain
  • Pain in Arm(s), back, neck, or jaw
  • Dizziness
  • Burning in the chest
  • Chest discomfort or pressure
  • Backache
  • Stomach discomfort (indigestion)
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Nausea and vomiting
The warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack

Conclusion

In conclusion, the benefits of regular exercise on heart health are overwhelmingly positive when compared to the associated risks. Maintaining an active lifestyle and including moderate-intensity exercise stands out as key factors in promoting optimal heart health. However, it is vital to prioritize your physical condition before diving into any vigorous workout regimen. A thorough check-up can guide you in determining the most suitable type, duration, and intensity of exercise for your well-being. Pay attention to your body and check for heart attack signs after exercise. If you feel any unusual symptoms, get help from a doctor right away. For personalized tracking of your heart health and reducing the risk of heart attacks, download the Aware app. Take charge of your heart health journey today! 

About the Author

Dr. Satish Madiraju, a renowned cardiologist is passionate about consumer heart health and is on a mission to prevent a million heart attacks. He shares his expertise not only on heart health but also on leadership, digital health, and improving patient experience.

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