Safe Exercise for Someone With Heart Disease

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

Check with your doctor about:

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

Ask your doctor about things like pushups and situps. These involve straining muscles against other muscles or a heavy object. You may need to avoid them.

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

Medication changes. Some drugs can greatly affect how your body handles exercise. Your doctor can let you know if you need to change your exercise plans.

6 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 tired more quickly. Extreme temperatures can interfere with circulation, make breathing difficult, and cause chest pain. Indoor activities such as mall walking can be better choices.
  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.
  6. If you have to stop, go back slowly. If your exercise program gets interrupted for a few days (due to illness, vacation, or bad weather, for example), ease back into the routine. Begin with less activity, and gradually add to it until you're back where you started.

What to Watch For

Stop an exercise if you get too tired or short of breath. Tell your doctor about it, or schedule an appointment.

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

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

If you feel pain while exercising, don't ignore it. Stop when you have pain anywhere 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 those feelings don't go away.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on March 23, 2015



National Jewish Health: "Cardiac Conditions: Safe Exercise for Patients with Heart Disease."

NIH News: "Exercise Is Safe, Improves Quality of Life in Patients With Chronic Heart Failure."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Your Guide to Living Well With Heart Disease."

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