Exercise testing factsheet

Introduction

An exercise test assesses how well the heart handles physical activity by monitoring the heart’s overall response during exercise. 

The test measures the performance and capacity of the heart, lungs and blood vessels. 

As your body works harder, it requires more oxygen, so the heart must pump more blood to carry the oxygen to your working muscles.

Your doctor may recommend an exercise test to:

  • diagnose coronary artery disease or heart-related symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting or dizziness
  • screen for heart-related conditions, such as heart rhythm or blood pressure abnormalities
  • evaluate heart and lung capacity to undertake certain physical activities or training programmes
  • assess symptoms and function following medical treatment, procedures or surgery. 

 Before the procedure

Before being tested,  you will be examined by your doctor who requested the test. A resting electrocardiogram (ECG) will be recorded prior to performing the exercise test.

  • no food or drink 2 hours before the appointment
  • do not consume any caffeine on the day of the test including chocolate, milo or cola drinks
  • wear appropriate walking/running clothing and shoes (no jeans, thongs, or bare feet)

Potential complications include:

  • possibility of a major disturbance of heart rhythm requiring resuscitation
  • development of heart failure or prolonged angina (heart pain) or development of a heart attack. 

Your doctor will consider these risks before recommending the study. 

Emergency equipment and trained personnel are available to deal with any complications that may arise. 

Please feel free to ask any questions you have prior to agreeing to undergo the exercise test. You may deny consent at any time if you wish.

 During the procedure

Testing consists of walking or running on a treadmill. The speed and gradient of the treadmill will be increased every three minutes.

The test is stopped if and when symptoms develop such as fatigue, breathlessness, tired legs, chest pain or other symptoms. 

Throughout the test, a doctor will be present and your pulse, blood pressure and ECG will be monitored. Some patients will wear a face mask and have their lung function assessed and monitored.

The procedure will usually take one hour. The actual time on the treadmill varies from person to person, depending on age, ability and fitness.

If at any time during the test you are feeling unwell in any way, report the symptom immediately.

 After the procedure

Patients will be monitored for at least five minutes post exercise and observed in by the cardiac team until fully recovered. 

You may wish to bring a change of clothes. The results of the exercise test will be forwarded to your doctor who requested the test.

Last updated Wednesday 10th July 2024

Disclaimer

This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024


This factsheet was produced with support from John Hunter Children's Hospital.