Safe Exercise for Someone With Heart Disease

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 29, 2020

When you have heart disease or you’ve had heart surgery, exercise is an important part of keeping your condition under control. But you'll also want to be smart about what you do and how.

Check With Your Doctor

Your doctor can let you know what activities are OK for you and your situation. You may have more options than you think.

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

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.

Some drugs can greatly affect how your body handles exercise. Your doctor can let you know if you need to change your exercise plans because of what you're taking.

Workout Tips

Pace yourself. Don't do too much, too soon. Give your body time to rest between workouts.


Don't exercise outdoors when it's 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 are better choices.

Stay hydrated. Drink water even before you feel thirsty, especially on hot days.

Skip extremely hot and cold showers or sauna baths after exercise. These extreme temperatures make your heart work harder.

Resume slowly after a break. If your regular exercise gets interrupted for a few days (because you were sick, went on vacation, or had bad weather, for example), ease back into it. Start with shorter and less intense activity, and gradually build up until you're back to the level you were before.

What to Watch For

Don't exercise if you're not feeling well or have a fever. People with heart problems should wait until all symptoms disappear before you get back to your routine, 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 beats per minute, call the doctor.

Being too tired or short of breath is also a signal to stop. Tell your doctor what happened, or schedule an appointment.

Does it hurt 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



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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