Hiking or walking is great for the body and soul, especially if you have a heart condition or pacemaker. It does not matter what type of route you do, as long as you getting your body moving and your blood flowing. It has many benefits like helping reduce the risk of disease, stroke, and even weight gain.
I love going hiking and walking and found it one of the best things I can do with my heart condition, pacemaker, and ICD.
Why I am writing about hiking with a heart condition and pacemaker
A few years ago, I had a cardiac arrest while out walking and was rushed to ICU. I was diagnosed with a heart condition called Cardiac Sarcoidosis, which ruined the inside of the heart and I now have a Pacemaker and defibrillator.
I went from scrambling and doing long-distance hikes like to Everest base camp to barely being able to walk 5minutes down the road. All of a sudden the simple things like leaving the house for a walk became complicated to me.
⇒ Looking for inspiration on what you can do with your pacemaker and defibrillator. Please feel free to head over to my healthy heart page
Tips for Hiking with a heart condition
Initially, after my first surgery, I started taking walks in my local areas like Richmond park, eventually building up to hikes in the mountains. At all times I was accompanied by someone, even when I was overseas.
I have now hiked with my heart condition, pacemaker, and ICD in over 4 countries before covid lockdown. Here are some helpful tips for hiking with a Heart Condition and Pacemaker that I learned and used.
1. Choose a hiking route right for you
Choose a hiking route that is right for you and your heart condition, not what you think you can do. If it is your first hike back after having been diagnosed or having your insertion, choose an easy route that won’t be too stressful on your heart.
Firstly, you don’t want to put yourself or the people around you at any unnecessary risk. Secondly, this will help you build your confidence and strength without too much pressure on yourself.
Before my operation, I used to do things like the three peaks challenge. However, these days, it would be out of the question for me at the moment. My first hike was more of a walk known as the Sailor’s stroll at Devils Punch Bowl, which I did 2 weeks after my second pacemaker. The path was pretty much flat and just over a mile long, so nothing too hard.
2. Have a hiking partner
Even though hiking solo can be a great experience it is best to have a hiking partner when you have a heart condition or pacemaker. Especially if it is your first time back hiking or trekking and they know about your medical condition. Not only is it more fun with others but it’s important in case you require medical assistance in an incident.
My hiking partner is mostly my husband but when I have been overseas for work, it has been a guide. I always let the person know in advance of my medical condition if they don’t know. I also point out my medical ID bracelet (more about them below) in case anything happens.
If you do decide to solo hike
If you do decide to go on a solo hike, please make sure to let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Which is something that should be done anyway if you don’t have a medical condition.
3. Keep hydrated with a water bottle or water bladder while hiking
Staying hydrated is a critical part of keeping a healthy heart and an important part of your ability to hike or trek. Water also helps keep your heartbeat regular especially when you are getting tired. I use two options, water bottle, and water bladder depending on the type of hiking route, distance, and difficulty.
Reusable Water Bottle
I used my water bladder for long distance hiking and scrambling, and where you can’t always get water, like in Nepal. It is also great to use while you are moving and don’t need to stop like mountain bike riding. A water bladder is usually a soft-sided plastic bag that you fill with water or liquid to keep hydrated and fits in your backpack.
4. Wear a Medical Alert ID hiking
The simple addition of wearing a Medical Alert ID hiking can save you in an emergency. If for example, you collapse, it will assist anyone quickly on your heart condition, pacemaker, and how to treat you. Medical Alert ID bands or bracelets give crucial knowledge of your condition and emergency contact.
They are not compulsory but are a great addition, especially if hiking or trekking solo. Here is the medical alert ID bracelet I wear which states my heart condition and insertion on the front and my husband’s contact number on the back for an emergency.
Wear your Medical Alert ID somewhere easily spotted
Wear your Medical alert ID somewhere that can be easily spotted when hiking, especially if you are hiking solo. It will make it a lot easier for someone to spot and get you the correct medical help. I suggest wearing a necklace, above your clothes or on your wrist. I wear my medical alert ID on my right wrist where it can be seen.
Here is a range of Medical Alert ID bracelets, when you select them all you have to do is choose a size and an engraving.
5. Carry a backpack for relevant medical items
Make sure to take a backpack hiking to carry all your relevant items like your Medical ID and water. If you decided to go on your own make sure you have a copy of your emergency contact with you. I use a women’s backpack from the Osprey range, which is comfortable to carry. I highly recommend them as their backpacks are specifically made for the outdoors.
Test the backpack straps across your device before hiking
Test the straps on your backpack across your device before you go hiking to see how it feels. I took my backpack skiing in Cortina before my implant and thought nothing of it. Until I did the straps up and it started rubbing on the area of my device. It felt uncomfortable and irritated the area, so ended up undoing the straps.
Suggestions on what to pack in your hiking backpack
Here are some suggestions on what to pack in your day backpack for hiking and a useful checklist:
- Your official ID Card for pacemaker or defibrillator
- A copy of your travel insurance
- A reusable water bottle to keep hydrated
- Your medical magnet if you have one to stop the pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD)
- Sweets and Nuts to keep fuelled in a reusable food storage bag.
- Don’t forget your GoPro for your hiking trip.
6. Pace yourself and take breaks
Pace yourself, take short breaks, and check your heart rate if you need to. There is no set timeframe or how frequently you should take a break when hiking with a heart condition or pacemaker. Remember it is not a race, take your time and listen to your body and heart. If you need to stop, rest, check your heart rate, and hydrate, then do so.
I have a bad habit of wanting to go fast and I think that is because of the hiking challenges that I have done. I needed to learn to slow down, drink more water and listen to my heart. There was a small incident when I was hiking in Austria where I overdid it. The pacing team back in London ended up calling me a few days later and asking what I had done!
7. Other things to consider when hiking with a heart condition
- Whether altitude will affect you
- Know your limits
- Another factor you would need to consider is if you are on blood thinners.
- Wear good walking or hiking shoes/boot
Remember to consult your Doctor
Lots of people continue doing their favorite outdoor activities with a medical condition and pacemaker/ICD. However, everyone is different and hiking routes need more precaution than others. It’s best to consult with your doctor first and have clearance before heading off on your next hiking adventure.
Check to see with your doctor if there is anything you need to consider when hiking or trekking to keep safe.
Keep in the back of your mind there are risks
You can be an advanced or even a beginner hiker but remember fatigue, hypothermia, dehydration, and heat exhaustion can happen, as well as injuries from slips and falls on the hiking routes. If you have a pacemaker or ICD you also have a small risk of falling on it awkwardly.
Remember to have fun and take care
Hiking or climbing with a medical condition, pacemaker, or ICD does not have to be a scary experience. Remember to have fun hiking and take it easy, especially if it is your first time.
I am definitely trying to live my life as normally as possible but still aware of my heart condition and pacemaker. I also try to make sure that I take all the necessary precautions to prevent any issues.
Hiking completed with my heart condition & pacemaker
Here are some hiking routes I have completed with my pacemaker and ICD that you can read about.
- Sailor’s Stroll Route at Devil’s Punch Bowl – Surrey, England
- Wolfsklamm Gorge & St Georgenberg Route – Alpbach, Austria
- Hiking Routes in Niigata & Nagano – Japan
Thank you for reading this article on hiking with a heart condition, Pacemaker, or ICD. I hope l was able to answer some questions you may have. If there is anything I should add to the list to help others with pacemakers or ICD please go to my contact page.
⇒ Pop on over to my adventure page if you looking for other great reads where to go hiking.
Love Hiking, pin it for later!!!!
Have you been hiking with a heart condition or a Pacemaker/Defibrillator insertion before? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.
Disclaimer: All views are based on my own experience hiking with my heart condition and Pacemaker/Defibrillator (ICD).