An exercise stress test measures how exercise affects your heart. It is a valuable tool for detecting blood flow problems that indicate heart disease or a genetic heart condition. The results of this test also help your healthcare provider with designing an exercise program that’s right for you.
What to expect during an exercise stress test.
The test may take place on a treadmill or on a stationary bike. During the test, a health professional monitors your blood pressure, heart rate, and your level of perceived exertion while you exercise. An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is also used to monitor heart function. Exercise increases stress on the cardiovascular system. Monitoring these things while you exercise can reveal if the heart is functioning properly under stress.
The total time for a stress test is about one hour. Once the equipment is set up and you are connected for monitoring, there is a warm-up period followed by about 8 to 12 minutes of exercise and then a cool-down. You will then be monitored for 10 to 15 minutes after the test, or as long as it takes for your heart rate to return to resting level. You are in control of the test and you can request that it be stopped at any time. The person conducting the test will encourage you to exercise for as long as possible to ensure good data.
An exercise stress test for fitness.
Your doctor may request that you be tested to reveal what level of exercise you can handle as you adopt a healthier lifestyle.
For the athlete or person seeking to increase physical fitness, an exercise stress test can provide an estimation of the maximal rate of oxygen consumption (VO2 max) (an indicator of aerobic fitness). Direct measurement of VO2 max requires you to breathe into a mouthpiece throughout the test, and then the expired air is analyzed by technicians. This method of measuring VO2 max requires experienced testers and special equipment. It is usually reserved for clinical and research settings or for elite athletes.