Physical therapy: An important part of a healthy heart

By Dr. Chris Mulvey, PT

Heart health is important for everyone. Marathoners in their 20s and retirees in their 70s all need a healthy heart to function.

The heart is a muscle, so the more exercise we giveit, the stronger it will become. Regular exercise causes long-term physiological adaptations, including improvements in heart function, strength, endurance and body composition.

There are many types of doctors whose expertise can improve heart health, most notably cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons. Another type of doctor also can improve heart health without the need for a scalpel or prescription drugs – physical therapists.

Physical therapy is effective in preventing heart disease, hypertension and heart attacks, and also is proven successful as a rehabilitation strategy.

February is American Heart Month, an opportune time to examine how physical therapy can improve your heart health. The American Heart Association outlines three components to healthy living: fitness, nutrition and lifestyle.

Physical Fitness

It often takes an “aha moment” before an individual commits to an exercise program: a wakeup call during doctor’s visit, a family member becoming sick or frustration with a growing waistline. Having a heart condition is not an excuse to avoid exercise. In fact, it’s the primary reason you SHOULD exercise.

The first step often is joining a gym. Unfortunately, diving headfirst with your eyes closed into an exercise routine is not the way to start. New gym members often resemble a deer in the headlights mixed with a kid in the candy store. Many people don’t know which exercises to perform, what weights to lift or how the machines even work.

Experienced physical therapists create customized health and wellness plans based on each patient’s specific needs. Patients with elevated blood pressure won’t be given the same plan as patients with a history of heart attacks and heart disease. A patient with diabetes, for example, may benefit from a structured cardiovascular exercise and resistance training program. That plan could improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.

As always, consult with a physical prior to starting any exercise plan.

Healthy Eating

Exercise is critically important to one’s health. What goes into your body, however, is just as important. The USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid is now called MyPlate, but still has the same five food groups. Fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy should be the core of any diet.

Registered dieticians are experts in nutrition and regulation of diet. Nutrition is a science, and dieticians help translate that science into practical solutions for healthy living. Food is the fuel that powers our bodies, and premium fuel results in premium health.

Licensed dietary nutritionists specialize in:

  • Meal planning
  • Weight management
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Healthy cooking
  • Food allergies
  • Diabetes consulting
  • Sports nutrition
  • Digestive concerns
  • Renal diseases
  • Malnutrition
Healthy Lifestyle

Everyone can live a healthy lifestyle. It’s not difficult, yet few of us can achieve the pinnacle of healthy living. On its website, the American Heart Association asks “How do you want to live?” It’s rhetorical, but we truly can control our own destiny. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The AHA lists four simple areas to enhance your lifestyle:

  • Mental health and well-being
  • Sleep
  • Stress management
  • Quit smoking
A Fourth Component

The AHA’s three components to healthy living could easily include a fourth – annual visits to the doctor. It’s essential to visit a primary care physician annually, along with the dentist, OBGYN or urologist, dermatologist, optometrist and otolaryngologist. Add physical therapist to that list.

The range of conditions treated through physical therapy is seemingly endless. Therapists treat patients with chronic conditions like arthritis, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, overuse injuries, muscle weakness and more. They also treat patients who have experienced concussions, undergone amputations or have suffered hearing loss.

In the end, your goal is a healthier you. Physical therapists can help you achieve that goal.


Dr. Chris Mulvey, PT, is president for company clinics at FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, which has more than 400 locations in 45 states. For more information, please visit

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