Back when I had my heart valve replacement in 2017 I did a lot of research on what lifestyle interventions might make the replacement valve last longer. I was surprised how little I could find, a lot more is known about lifestyle and heart disease (coronary artery disease) than lifestyle and heart valve disease. So I was pleased to see an update recently on Adam Pick’s heart valve newsletter.
First there is a slideshow from heartcentral on how to strengthen your heart valves. It confirms what I had previously believed, that heart friendly diet and exercise interventions are also heart-valve friendly. And it specifically recommends omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids such as those found in fish oil supplements, to reduce the risk of plaque formation on valves leading to valve stenosis. There is also a separate series of recommendations for exercise with heart valve disease. Again this confirms that typical exercise recommendations for a healthy heart also apply to healthy heart valves. But there is a specific warning about exercise intensity. This is something that requires working with your cardiologist, because exercise at high heart rates can be problematic if you have heart valve symptoms like stenosis.
I ran into this before my heart valve replacement as I mentioned here. Heart valve stenosis, which increases blood pressure and reduces blood flow from the heart during higher intensity exercise, can strain the heart, and, among other things, lead to afib. This can still be an issue after heart valve replacement. It’s important to get cleared for exercising at higher heart rates. One way to do this is exercising while wearing a monitor during cardiac rehab. Your cardiologist can also run other tests. In my case, the fact that I passed a nuclear-perfusion exercise test, and also wore a heart rate monitor for a week, and had no incidents despite exercising at high heart rates, gives me confidence that high intensity exercise is safe.