Exercise Exercise

When prescribing exercise, it is important to consider the following:

  • Patients with undiagnosed AF should not exercise until adequately managed by their primary care physician
  • Monitor for irregular and potentially rapid ventricular rates
  • HR at rest should be adequately controlled (<100 bpm)
  • Age-predicted maximal HR targets are not valid
  • AF may be intermittent
  • Irregular ventricular responses render assessment of HR inaccurate when using pulse oximetry or HR monitors and may make BP assessment more difficult. For this reason HR should be assessed manually
  • HR is unreliable for prescribing exercise intensity

Exercise is contraindicated under the following circumstances:

  • Active retinal haemorrhage or recent retinal therapy
  • Current illness or infection
  • Type 1 diabetes, if blood glucose >14 mmol/L and urinary ketones are present
  • Blood glucose < 4mmol/L (hypoglycaemia risk)

If a patient's pre- or post-exercise blood glucose is <5.5 mmol/L, they should consume carbohydrates before exercising.

The exercise clinician should:

  • Monitor blood glucose levels, observing the individual’s blood glucose response to exercise, medications and carbohydrate ingestion
  • Check the patient's skin integrity before every exercise session
  • Ensure that the patient wears appropriate footwear and clothing for exercising
  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of hypoglycaemia and ensure a carbohydrate source is available at exercise sessions in case it is needed

Beta-blockers may mask symptoms of hypoglycaemia. Patients with diabetes may not experience the typical symptoms of angina.

Individuals with type 2 diabetes may exercise with higher-than-normal blood glucose levels providing they are feeling well and are adequately hydrated. Hyperglycaemia after a meal is likely to reduce during aerobic exercise.

For patients with concomitant chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the following should be considered:

  • If appropriate, prescribed bronchodilators should be taken by the patient before exercise training starts. This medication should only be given if spirometry results confirm that such use provides benefits beyond that provided by the long-acting bronchodilators the patient may be prescribed
  • Oxygen saturation should be monitored regularly when commencing an exercise program, especially during lower limb exercise training
  • Recent studies do not support the use of supplemental oxygen during exercise training for patients who are normoxaemic at rest and desaturate during exercise.
  • The exercise program should be modified accordingly for each individual. Desaturation during small muscle mass exercise (e.g., arm exercise) is not common. Cycling often induces less oxygen desaturation than walking in patients with COPD.

For more detailed information see The Australian Lung Foundation Pulmonary Rehabilitation Toolkit

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is defined as an increase in the resting mean pulmonary arterial pressure to at least 20 mm Hg on right heart catheterization. People with PH usually experience breathlessness on exertion and may have other symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, chest discomfort, chest pain, palpitations, cough, pre-syncope, syncope, lower limb oedema and abdominal distension. The current definitions of PH are outlined below.

Haemodynamic definitions of pulmonary hypertension


Haemodynamic characteristics

Pulmonary hypertension

mPAP >20 mmHg

Pre-capillary pulmonary hypertension

mPAP >20 mmHg

PCWP ≤15mmHg


Isolated post-capillary pulmonary hypertension

mPAP >20 mmHg



Combined post- and pre-capillary pulmonary hypertension

mPAP >20 mmHg



Exercise pulmonary hypertension

mPAP/CO slope between rest and exercise >3mmHg/L/min

Exercise prescription for patients with pulmonary artery hypertension (PAH) must be individualised based on current medical management, status of PAH-specific medications and other co-morbidities that would impact on the individual's ability to undertake exercise. Current evidence supports exercise for patients with NYHA functional class II, III, and limited in class IV.

Exercise in patients with PAH:

  • is effective in improving exercise capacity and health-related quality of life of people with PH
  • improves cardiovascular fitness
  • improves right and left ventricular function
  • reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines
  • improves peripheral skeletal muscle function

Evidence currently supports aerobic exercise including walking, exercise bike and treadmill.  There is limited evidence to support strength training.

A rating of perceived exertion of 11-13 on the Borg scale, or 3-4 on the modified Borg scale, is recommended to monitor exercise intensity. Interval training regimens are recommended to avoid marked increases in pulmonary pressures with exercise. Alternating upper limb and lower limb exercise may be appropriate to maintain preload. High-intensity exercise, isometrics and Valsalva manoeuvres are to be avoided.

The exercise clinician should monitor:

  • Oxygen saturation : Monitor during exercise to maintain SpO2 > 85%. Oxygen should be available during training.
  • HR response :  If bradycardia is observed during exercise, the patient should cease exercising and should be monitored. Recommencement of exercise should be carried out with caution and medical advice should be sought if necessary.
  • Evidence of right HF