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Exercise may be one of the best moves you can make, even if you have heart disease.

Consider just a few of the possible benefits of exercise:

  • Strengthens your heart
  • May improve congestive heart failure symptoms
  • Lowers your blood pressure
  • Makes you stronger
  • Helps you reach (and stay at) a healthy weight
  • Helps manage stress
  • Boosts your mood and self-esteem
  • Improves sleep

Your cardiologist or regular doctor may have already talked with you about setting up an exercise routine and let you know what's safe for you to do. If not, ask them:

  • How much exercise can I do each day?
  • How often can I exercise each week?
  • What types of activities should I try, and what should I avoid?
  • Should I take my medication(s) at a certain time around my exercise schedule?
  • Should I take my pulse while exercising? What should it be?
  • What warning signs should I watch out for while exercising?

Types of Exercise

Your workout plan will generally include these two main kinds:

  1. Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise. This is the type that benefits your heart most. Examples include walking, jogging, jumping rope, bicycling, skiing, skating, rowing, and aerobics or cardio classes. These strengthen your heart and lungs. Over time, aerobic exercise can help your blood pressure and improve your breathing, and then your heart won't have to work as hard during exercise.
  2. Strength training. These exercises tone and build up your muscles. You may use hand weights, weight machines at a gym, or your own body weight. Typically, you do several sets of each exercise, and then let those muscles rest a day or two between sessions.

Stretching also helps. Do this gently, after you're done with your workout. Never stretch so far that it hurts, and don't stretch until you've warmed up.

You may want to work with a certified personal trainer, ideally one who has helped people who have heart disease, at least at first.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Every time you exercise, start by warming up. This helps your body adjust slowly from resting to working hard. A good way to warm up is to do whatever you plan to do during your workout, but at a slower pace, so you're easing into it.

If you experience chest pain, serious breathlessness, or dizziness, you should stop exercising and let your doctor know about your symptoms.

When you're done, cool down by gradually slowing your pace. Don't just stop or sit down! Sitting, standing still, or lying down right after exercise can make you feel dizzy or light-headed or have heart palpitations (fluttering in your chest).

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