Cardiac Rehab and Dysautonomia

April 10th, 2015 by Carrie, the Just Mildly Medicated gal

Cardiac Rehab and Dysautonomia

Exercising with Dysautonomia can be tricky. Dysautonomia literally means dysfunctional autonomic nervous system. Your autonomic system is responsible for everything your body is busy doing that you don’t have to give any thought to. You can thank your autonomic system for handling things such as digestion, temperature regulation, heart rate, and blood pressure. When your autonomic system decides to slack off, or be flat out non-compliant, exercise can be difficult.

In just standing, let alone exercise, you’re body is working overtime to try and keep your blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels appropriate. When your body is flat out non-compliant you struggle with an abnormal cardiovascular response to just about everything.  This puts you in a category of people who are both considered orthostatic and exercise intolerant as well as in need of an exercise program. You know, because life isn’t hard enough.

Most specialists that work with Dysautonomia patients advise a recumbent exercise plan along with medication, hydration, and salt loading to help combat the roller coaster of symptoms. I personally feel the most balanced in my treatment plan when I am following all of the mentioned aspects, but can admit hopping on and off the exercise bandwagon and due to my inconsistency I wasn’t seeing much in the way of results.

During a recent visit with a cardiologist I was told I needed to safely up my game. I’ve used a recumbent bike at home and during good months could average anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes 3 to 5 days a week. Truth was it just wasn’t consistent, let alone that the resistance wasn’t high enough for a challenge and my body was used to that particular exercise. When the cardiologist said she thought cardiac rehab would be a good fit for me I jumped at it.

Cardiac rehab for the Dysautonomia patient is a safe way to start or enhance a work out plan safely while having your oxygen level, heart rate, and blood pressure monitored by nurses. You’ll also have access to recumbent equipment not found at most gym facilities. The truth is you may complete the entire program and have little to no improvement in your cardiovascular response to exercise but that doesn’t mean it isn’t helping.


recumbent steppers and recumbent elipticals


Moderate intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week is recommend for the majority of people, including those with a chronic illness. A regular exercise program helps as a preventative measure for many health issues, improves mental health, and promotes a positive self esteem. If your cardiologist agrees that cardiac rehab is a good idea for you and your insurance approves your plan you’ll be ready to get started.

My Cardiac Rehab Suggestions:

The nurse will share the doctors approved plan, if you have concerns about this plan in any way speak up. It is not recommended for most Dysautonomia patients to exercise upright. Other than a walking test done to have a strip from the ECG of my heart rate and rhythm that was under 5 minutes I have not done anything upright in the first month that I have participated in cardiac rehab. If you are guided to warm up at a treadmill please tell them you have orthostatic issues, you’ll be shown several recumbent options.



Have your music ready. Most people enjoy working out more if they have music they like. I use an app on my iPhone called Pandora and set of ear buds. They will usually have a few TVs and headphones available that you can borrow there as well.

You’ll have a goal, mine was 30 minutes of moderate cardio. If you’re not done don’t be done. This is a unique opportunity to be monitored during different types of exercise. There will usually be everything from weight machines, balance balls, and free weights, tell the nurse you’d like to be shown how to use them properly and also ask them to let you know how your body responds. I have found that I love working out with weights, be willing to try something new. Now that I am told when my heart rate is too high I and can lower the weights and add extra reps to get the same benefit in a way that works better for me.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t meet your given goal, have to take the rest of the day off from doing much else, or it’s just harder than you had hoped. You aren’t in competition with anyone except yourself. The goal should be to become a stronger and healthier you. This happens in small ways that add up over time.


Know how many sessions you have and plan accordingly. The idea is to create a new normal, something to continue after cardiac rehab. I had 36 sessions and decided to go 2 times a week and have developed alternate workout plans to do at home so that I am working out 5 to 6 days a week.

Don’t go on a diet, but do consider changes you can make to your diet. The idea is for this work to pay off and the last thing you want to do is come home from working hard and sabotage all that effort.

this is my new baby  bicep muscle

this is my new baby
bicep muscle

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7 Responses

  1. Marie Boone says:

    Keep up your great effort to be stronger and healthier. You, Rob and the children are in our thoughts and prayers. We love you all. <3
    Aunt Marie and Uncle Bill

  2. Jan Tyre says:

    Really important article…. great information for everyone…. once again great job Carrie…. so proud of you!

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  4. Surbhi Kapur says:

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  5. Sandra Hearn says:

    I have Chiari 1 Malformation and was decompressed in April 2016 and shortly after was diagnosed with gastroparesis and by the end of 2016 I weighed 99 pounds. By feb 14 I received my first GJ feeding tube and was 76 pounds. I am now 86 pounds. I have autonomic issues and am on meds to regulate BP 4x a day. I don’t have the strength to do much but what would you recommend to even make a small dent at this point. I can’t burn calories. I need all of them. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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