Safety Issues Relating to Exercise Assessment

Before performing an exercise test, the health professional should evaluate whether the patient should participate in exercise training based on:

  1. A review of the patient’s medical history.
  2. An evaluation of the patient in relation to the contraindications and precautions identified below.

All patients should be evaluated for contraindications and precautions to exercise.

Supervisory staff should be aware of the criteria for termination of a test, and other important safety issues.

Exercise Test Contraindications and Precautions

Unstable angina* or myocardial infarction during the previous month.
Resting heart rate > 120 beats / min after 10 minutes rest (relative contraindication).
Systolic blood pressure > 200 mmHg ± diastolic blood pressure > 100 mmHg (relative contraindication).
Resting pulse oximetry (SpO2)% < 85% on room air or while breathing the prescribed level of supplemental oxygen. The referring doctor should be notified and exercise assessment should not proceed. Suggest the patient should be referred for assessment for long-term oxygen therapy (LTOT) if not already receiving supplemental oxygen. See testing protocol for oxygen supplementation.
Physical disability preventing safe performance.

For patients with lung cancer and bony metastases best practice recommendations are available. The presence of bony metastases should not preclude exercise prescription, however people at higher risk of exercise-related bony complications should be identified.

Exercise Recommendation for People With Bone Metastases

*Note: Stable exertional angina is not an absolute contraindication to exercise, but the test should be performed after administration of anti-angina medication and with rescue nitrate available.

Exercise Test Termination Criteria

Onset of angina or angina-like symptoms.
Signs of poor perfusion including lightheadedness, confusion, ataxia, pallor, central cyanosis, nausea, cold clammy skin, sweating.
Patient requests to terminate test (e.g. intolerable dyspnoea or episodes of coughing, which is not relieved by rest and causes patient distress).
Physical or verbal manifestations of severe fatigue.
Development of an abnormal gait pattern (e.g. leg cramps, staggering).
Tachycardia (i.e. heart rate > 210 – 0.65age). (This should be considered in conjunction with other signs or symptoms.
SpO2 < 85%**
Failure of heart rate to increase with exercise (unless the patient has a fixed rate pacemaker).

* Depending on the experience of the supervising staff and on the patient’s clinical presentation, the test may continue even if SpO2 < 80%. If the test is stopped, recommence testing when the patient feels able. Alternatively, consider repeating the test with supplemental oxygen. See testing protocol for oxygen supplementation.

* In PAH , patients with R to L Shunt/ Eisenmenger’s Syndrome low oxygen levels are normal and not a contraindication for undertaking a walk test. If on LTOT then use oxygen during the test.

Safety Issues Associated With Exercise Testing

  • The health professionals supervising the exercise program will need to be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
  • Local area safety procedures should be established during program set-up.
  • Where possible, “crash trolleys” and oxygen should be in the vicinity of the area designated for exercise.
  • Programs that are not run in a hospital environment (e.g. community programs) should ensure adequate emergency procedures are in place, including a telephone to call an ambulance.
  • If the patient is on long-term oxygen therapy, the exercise tests should be carried out using the prescribed level of inspired oxygen.

Safety Monitoring During Walking Tests

During walking tests, the health professional should ensure that:

  • Pulse oximetry is used to measure heart rate and oxygen saturation (i.e. the patient’s physiological response to exercise).
  • The breathless (Borg) score is used to measure the patient’s perception of dyspnoea during exercise.

The Toolkit

Getting Started
Getting Started
Patient Assessment
Patient Assessment
Exercise Training
Exercise Training
Patient Education
Patient Education
Patient Re-assessment
Patient Re-Assessment
Additional Resources
Additional Resources

Endorsed by the following organisations according to their respective approved criteria: