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Exercising With Heart Disease: FAQ

By Karen Asp
WebMD Feature

Exercise is definitely on your to-do list if you have heart disease. Your doctor may have already talked with you about that.

But did she answer all your questions and let you know exactly what you need to do? If not, you may want to follow up with her after you read the answers to these questions.

Q: Is exercise safe for me?

A: Yes, as long as you stick to what your doctor says you can do. "Don’t fear exercise, as it’s one of the best things you can do for your heart,” says Oregon cardiologist James Beckerman.

You want to make sure you’re exercising wisely and not taxing your heart beyond its current limits. So talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program, and find out if there are specific concerns you need to address.

Q: What type of exercise should I do?

A: Once you get the OK from your doctor, focus on doing aerobic exercise like walking, bicycling, or swimming, which will help your heart become stronger and more efficient, says New York cardiologist Merle Myerson, MD.

Q: How much and how often should I exercise?

A: The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of harder exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.

Start slowly, doing just a few minutes at a time, and gradually progress to doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day, 5 or more days a week. Moderate means that although you’re not gasping for breath, you’re not able to talk in full sentences.

Beckerman says simply, “Be active every day. Saying you need to exercise only four to five times a week is like saying you only need to eat fruits and veggies four times a week.”

More specifically, set a daily goal to log at least 22 minutes of physical activity. “You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck in that time frame,” says Texas cardiologist Bradley Bale.

Better yet, you don’t have to exercise all at once. If you want to split your 22-minute daily minimum into two 11-minute brisk walks or even three or four, do what fits best into your schedule.

Q: What counts as exercise?

A: Structured exercise (like brisk walking, Zumba, or swimming) is best, because it gives you a chance to work a little harder and improve your fitness a little more each day. But all activity counts.

“Any physical activity is better than none. So squeeze more movement into your day whenever you can,” Myerson says. For instance, change sitting meetings into walking ones. Or spend more time gardening.

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