In late 2012, just a few months before my 30th birthday, I was diagnosed with a heart condition. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM for short, is a common condition striking people of all ages. In the simplest terms possible, it causes any part of the heart to thicken, which results in the heart having to work harder to pump blood. In my case the most obvious symptom was palpitations, a feeling of my heart stopping for a brief moment.
Once my immediate shock wore off with the doctor’s repeated assurances of my heart health, I became concerned with how HCM might otherwise affect my life. Namely, whether would it hamper me from going to the gym or not. The same cardiologist who made the diagnosis also helped me put together a plan to continue to achieve my fitness and health goals without putting undue stress on my heart.
If you have been diagnosed with a heart condition and want to get back to the gym, follow these important steps before doing so.
Speak with a cardiologist.
Heart conditions strike people differently. No two are the same. For instance, while HCM is a minor nuisance to me, many young athletes who drop dead during games also suffer from HCM. Consult a cardiologist who knows your heart history before stepping foot in the gym.
Learn about the condition.
No two heart conditions are the same. Make sure the cardiologist tells you everything you need to know about what your heart will go through while you work out. Know what to be on the lookout for. Ask any questions you have, no matter how silly they seem. At home, do some online research. If you are confused about something you read online, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor.
Know your limits.
Once you tell the cardiologist you intend to work out with your condition and receive assurances that it’s OK to do so, ask what your limits are. Are high-intensity workouts that result in sustained, high heart rates out of the question? Avoid Crossfit. Is powerlifting no longer an option? Stick with weights you can do 10 or more reps of. Don’t push yourself, and know when to stop. If you know and respect the limits of your heart, you’ll be less likely to have an issue.
Talk to the gym staff and trainers.
Whether you’re joining a gym for the first time or you’ve been there for ages, make sure to alert the trainers. If your gym doesn’t have trainers who roam around the floor, tell the staff at the front desk. Tell them the name of your condition, give them a brief description of what it does to your heart, and ask them to make a note on your computer file. For example, when I was diagnosed with HCM I told the trainers I see every morning. I also gave them a quick summary and told them I should be fine to continue my normal routines. If there is ever a problem and I need an ambulance, they’ll at least be able to warn the paramedics.
I thought being diagnosed with HCM was the end of my time at the gym. I feared I was doomed to spend the rest of my life only wishing I could be working out. By following those four steps and changing my routine slightly, I was able to continue being fit and happy.