Cardiac Patients Work Out : Aerobics Class Does Their Hearts Good

September 24, 1985|MIKE EBERTS | Eberts, a graduate student at USC, is a Times intern. and

It is an aerobics class, all right, but the setting seems wrong.

Big band, jazz and classical music--not a pulsating pop beat--comes from the speakers.

The participants wear nondescript T-shirts and gym shorts, not shimmery leotards or designer exercise suits. These aerobics students appear to have stronger ties to the Geritol Set than the Pepsi Generation.

Ready for Emergencies

And, oh yes, emergency heart resuscitation equipment is nearby.

This is not another sweaty "meet market" between wall-to-wall mirrors of a swank health spa. These exercisers are concerned with other affairs of the heart--like keeping it pumping.

It's a class called Continuous Rhythmical Aerobic Exercises, offered at Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale.

It is a fairly exclusive club, despite its members' lack of commitment to designer exercise wear. To enroll, one must have had a heart attack, cardiac bypass surgery or have been declared a high cardiac risk; have completed a cardiac rehabilitation program; have physician approval and successfully have undergone a recent stress or treadmill test.

The aerobics program is tailored for heart patients, according to Teresa Angulo, a registered nurse at the hospital who designed its musical format. "I needed something upbeat, but I didn't want kids' music," she said, noting that members are asked to bring their own music to class.

The emphasis is on getting participants to do the amount of exercise they are capable of--but no more. "Some are afraid of exerting themselves, while others want to go all out to show there is nothing wrong with their bodies," Angulo said. "The music can be jumped around to or just walked."

Students Monitor Selves

Precautions are taken to keep students from endangering their hearts. Each takes his or her blood pressure before the exercise session; pulse rates are taken every five minutes during the hourlong session.

A typical class has 12 students. Each is given a target heart rate to maintain through the workout.

The ever-ready emergency equipment has not been needed during the 2 1/2 years of classes, Angulo said.

As a big-band tune played, a dozen exercisers did rudimentary dance steps and worked out on exercise machines.

Gene Harris, 65, pulled on the rowing machine, talking between strokes. "When you're in a group like this, it makes you want to participate, to hang in there."

The Palmdale resident had a heart attack Dec. 15, 1982, while he was working as an engineer on Mt. Wilson. Although his left ventricle was blocked, he did not need bypass surgery. He started in the aerobics classes in April, 1983.

"I was always energetic and exercised a great deal," he said. In addition to the twice-weekly aerobics classes, Harris said he walks two miles three mornings a week.

Lillian Brandt, 60, of Pasadena is doing figure-eights with each leg. She said she likes the classes because, "Nobody is judging you. You do your own thing and if you can't do some things, it's OK."

A retired secretary who once worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Brandt suffered a heart attack on Nov. 22, 1983. She has been in the program several months and said it has helped her to lose weight and decrease her blood sugar.

Up off the mat and doing a sprightly step, she paused to take her pulse. "Right on, 120," she said.

Music Helps Pass Time

Bea Horn, 67, of Flintridge has been in the program six months. "You listen to the music and it helps you pass the time away," she said. She suffered heart failure due to an incompetent (malfunctioning) valve in October, 1984.

If a heart patient is going to attempt vigorous exercise, she said, a hospital is a good place to do it. "It gives you a very safe feeling."

"I think the aerobics do more for my body" than the exercise machines, Horn said during a cooling-off period. Since beginning the classes, her blood pressure has declined from 170 or 180 over 80 to 120 or 130 over 60.

Aerobics have been a boon to her social life as well as her health, said Horn, noting that the classes have helped her learn to dance.

With the session near an end, the music is turned off. The whoosh of the air conditioning is the only sound in the room. Relaxation exercises are performed. The students tighten and relax each limb.

As the rest of the students file out, Art Hawkes, 70, remains, peddling away on a stationary bicycle.

"I'd just as soon exercise as eat," said Hawkes, who has a stationary bicycle at home in Burbank. "Some of the others have to be pushed."

Hawkes, a retired administrative assistant, finds aerobic exercise easy. "You just keep up to the music."

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