Don't Lug Your Luggage

Filed Under: Heart Health

Dr. Sinatra wrote about airport angina in an issue of Heart, Health, and Nutrition years ago. For those of you who missed it, here is a synopsis of his tips for heart patients:

1. Know your bag: Select luggage that’s user-friendly. There’s a great selection of bags with easy moving wheels under them, so you don’t have to carry unchecked bags under your arms (like in the old days so many of us remember), and smaller ones with handy shoulder straps. And you can loop the strap of a smaller bag into the extended handle of a larger wheeled one to lessen your load.

2. Know your options: Employ shoulder straps when you can. Most loaded computer bags are eight pounds or less, and can be carried without much effort by the shoulder strap. But caution to you efficiency experts: don’t carry two and three bags with straps on each shoulder!

3. Know your limits: We also give our cardiac patients individualized weight limitations for lifting heavy objects, especially if they have angina, or have had a recent heart attack or heart surgery that’s still healing. Ask your cardiologist. If you are in a cardiac rehab program, you can inquire about your specific guidelines for lifting weights based on your present level of safe exercise, which is prescribed to stay well below your “anginal threshold,” or the “rate pressure product (RPP)” that may provoke symptoms for you. There are weight lifting parameters that coincide with your safe level of exercise.

4. Relax and breathe: I know it is easier said than done, but try to roll with the punches as you travel, and stay as relaxed as you can. You may need to release the outcome of your journey—especially time urgency—even when traveling for business. No matter how “important” your trip, it’s never worth dying for! You don’t want to provoke angina if it can be avoided. And it can…

5. Let go: It’s gripping the handle of your suitcase tightly, or pressing that carry-on bag up into the overhead compartment that will be negatively affecting your RPP, because both are isometric activities—pushing or exerting against resistance. So, remember to be conscious of keeping a loose hold on the handle of your rolling suitcase, so the effort is more dynamic, or isotonic, meaning that the muscle moves through the effort without resistance.

You see, when you squeeze down on a handle, or push against an object that needs your effort to move, the muscle tension is transferred to the chest, where it also puts a squeeze on your heart, impeding circulation as well as making the heart work harder—yet another “double handcuff” situation.

Both your heart rate and blood pressure rise sharply with these kind of maneuvers, and you have the added stress of having the muscles around the heart apply external pressure to the large arteries that lie right there on the surface of the heart.

6. Exhale on the effort: Remember to breathe. If you are lifting something—be it luggage or a child—always breathe through the effort on the exhaled breath. Most of us are unaware that we’re holding our breath—especially during inhalation, so we force our diaphragms up and into the heart: another big squeeze on those coronaries!

Folks with heart disease must be especially aware to relax, and exhale with effort—like lifting bags—to avoid overtaxing their hearts. Don’t lift anything over 25 pounds by yourself, even if that means surrendering to someone else’s assistance. And remember to anticipate. If you have a prescription for nitroglycerine; by all means take it with you when you travel. It can save your heart, even if you have to dial 911 far from home.

7. Surrender: Should you have serious heart disease, let some one else deal with the luggage. Even I ask for help to hoist a heavy bag into an overhead compartment—I often have no choice!

Asking for help may not be your forte, but you’d be surprised how kind people are, how much they want to help, and how it can connect you in a positive way with other travelers.  In a way, you are giving them the unspoken lead to engage you should they need assistance with something you can provide: “what comes around goes around” as they say!

I really hope these tips help you to enjoy your travels all year ‘round and take measures to safeguard your heart. Hopefully “airport angina” won’t be something you will ever have to deal with.

For more information on angina and other cardiovascular problems, visit Dr. Sinatra’s Web site.

DISCLAIMER: The content of is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

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