heart disease

Exploring Heart Disease & Exercise

What is heart disease?

Also known as Cardiovascular Disease or Coronary Artery Disease, heart disease refers to the build up of plaque within the walls of the arteries supplying blood to your heart. This build up can begin from a young age; however, generally manifests as a concern later in life.

What happens when I have a large blockage?

Usually when you’re resting you will not notice anything different. This is because enough blood is flowing passed the blockage and providing oxygen to the heart muscle. When you are exercising your heart is pumping faster. It therefore needs more oxygen to continue to work at this higher rate.

This is when symptoms are likely to develop, as not enough blood can bypass the blockage to satisfy this increased oxygen requirement. These symptoms are our body’s way of telling us to stop exercising – something is wrong!

What symptoms could I experience?

It’s important that we realise that the typical crushing chest pain is not the only symptom of heart disease or heart attack. Here is a list of common symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness / breathing difficulty
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizzy / light headed
  • Ache / tightness in the lower jaw
  • Ache between shoulder blades
  • Discomfort in neck
  • Choking / burning in throat
  • Ache / heaviness around your shoulder(s)
  • Discomfort / pain in your arm(s)
  • Nauseousness


Tragically, many people fail to seek medical help when necessary as they don’t realise that their symptoms are related to heart disease! It’s important to remember that every person will experience different symptoms, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

I’ve noticed one of more of these symptoms when I exercise – what should I do?

The first thing to do is to head to your GP for a review. Your GP may refer you to a Cardiologist for further investigation. In the meantime, it is important that you continue to look out for any of these symptoms when you exercise or are under stress and that you act when they occur. If you’re exercising and experience symptoms, it’s important that you slow down and cease exercise. If your symptoms do not cease within 5 minutes, or they get worse then you should seek medical help immediately.

I’ve been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and am scared to exercise – what should I do?


It’s important to remember that exercise really is medicine when it comes to heart disease. Exercise helps to reduce many risk factors related to heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and can reduce the likelihood of heart disease progressing. It is very common however, to be nervous about engaging in exercise after being diagnosed with heart disease!

The best advice I can give is to access your local Cardiac Rehabilitation program – your Cardiologist will be able to refer you to this if you are eligible. Cardiac Rehab is usually run by a team of health professionals, including Exercise Physiologists, and will provide you with the opportunity to engage in exercise and learn about how to manage your heart condition.

Alternatively, your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist can also guide you through safe exercise and help you re-gain your confidence and zest for life!

For more information about managing your heart condition or minimising your risk of heart disease, I’d recommend checking out the Heart Foundation!