Does your heart disease keep you from working out because you’re worried you’ll do something you shouldn’t?

Relax. A smart plan can put your body in shape and make your ticker stronger.

Is exercise safe for me?

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 cardiologist James Beckerman, MD.

You want to make sure you do it wisely. Don't tax your heart beyond its limits. Talk to your doctor before you start. Ask if there are specific things you should avoid.

What type of exercise should I do?

Once you get the OK from your doctor, focus on things like walking, bicycling, or swimming. These will help your heart get stronger and more efficient, says cardiologist Merle Myerson, MD.

How much and how often should I exercise?

Shoot for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of harder exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.

Start slowly. Do just a few minutes at a time, and gradually work up to at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day for 5 or more days a week. "Moderate" means you're not gasping for breath while you exercise, but you should be able to have a conversation.

What counts as exercise?

Something structured, 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 it helps to move your body in other ways, too.

"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. You could also spend more time gardening.

What other types of exercise should I consider?

To round out your fitness program, do activities that strengthen your muscles at least 2 days a week. For instance, you can use dumbbells, resistance bands, or exercise balls.

Start slowly, with lighter weights at first. Be careful about using heavy weights, because they could strain your heart, Myerson says.

It's also helpful to do things that keep your body flexible, like yoga, stretching, or tai chi. If you decide to try yoga, ask your doctor if you should avoid classes that take place in hot studios. That heat could be dangerous for some people with heart disease.

Why is exercise so good for the heart?

It lowers your blood pressure and LDL "bad" cholesterol levels. It also cuts your odds of having a heart attack in the future, Beckerman says.

"Exercise is one of the best medications for treating heart disease," Myerson says. When she writes prescriptions for medicine, she always writes one for exercise, too.

Believe it or not, you may start to look forward to exercise. "Exercise shouldn't be viewed as punishment for your body, but rather a wise investment in your health, so much that you naturally want to move every day," Beckerman says.

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