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Safe Exercise for Someone With Heart Disease

When you've been diagnosed with heart disease or have had heart surgery, exercise is an important part of keeping your condition under control.

Check with your doctor about:

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What's safe. Your doctor can let you know what activities are OK for you to do. You may have more options than you think.

Ask your doctor about exercises such as pushups and sit-ups. These exercises involve straining muscles against other muscles or an immovable object. You may need to avoid them.

Heavy lifting. Make sure that lifting and pushing heavy objects, and chores such as raking, shoveling, mowing, and scrubbing, aren't off-limits. Chores around the house can be tiring for some people. Do only what you can do without getting tired.

Medication changes. Some drugs can greatly affect your response to exercise. Your doctor can let you know what, if any, changes you need to make to your exercise plans.

General Workout Tips for People With Heart Disease

  1. Pace yourself. Don't do too much, too soon. Give your body time to rest between workouts.
  2. Don't exercise outdoors when it is too cold, hot, or humid. High humidity may make you tire more quickly. Extreme temperatures can interfere with circulation, make breathing difficult, and cause chest pain. Better choices are indoor activities such as mall walking.
  3. Stay hydrated. Drink water even before you feel thirsty, especially on hot days.
  4. Skip extremely hot and cold showers or sauna baths after exercise. These extreme temperatures make your heart work harder.
  5. Don't exercise in hilly areas. If you must walk in steep areas, slow down going uphill to avoid working too hard. Monitor your heart rate closely, and talk to your doctor about what a safe heart rate is for you.

If your exercise program gets interrupted for a few days (due to illness, vacation, or bad weather, as examples), ease back into the routine. Begin with a reduced level of activity, and gradually increase it until you're back where you started.

What to Watch for When Exercising

Stop the exercise if you become overly fatigued or short of breath. Tell your doctor about the symptoms, or schedule an appointment.

Don't exercise if you're not feeling well or have a fever. People with heart problems should wait a few days after all symptoms disappear before restarting an exercise program, unless your doctor gives other directions.

Stop activity if you develop a rapid or irregular heartbeat or have heart palpitations. Check your pulse after you've rested for 15 minutes. If it's still above 100-120 beats per minute, call the doctor.

If you feel pain while exercising, don't ignore it. Stop when you have chest pain or pain anywhere else in your body. You could injure your joints.

Stop and rest if you:

  • Feel weak
  • Are dizzy or light-headed
  • Have unexplained weight gain or swelling -- call the doctor right away
  • Feel pressure or pain in your chest, neck, arm, jaw, or shoulder
  • Are concerned for any reason

Call the doctor if the symptoms don't go away.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on February 12, 2014

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