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Exercise With Heart Disease: FAQ

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 27, 2021

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

Don’t worry. A smart exercise plan can help you get in shape and make your ticker stronger.

That’s especially true if you have the most common type of heart disease, coronary artery disease (CAD). Top heart experts say that getting regular exercise is one of the healthiest habits you can practice to live well and help keep CAD in check.

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.

Talk to your doctor before you start. Ask if there are specific types of exercise you should avoid, so you don’t tax your heart beyond its limits.

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 your workouts. "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.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Bradley Bale, MD, medical director, Heart Health Program, Grace Clinic, Lubbock, TX; co-author, Beat the Heart Attack Gene, Turner, 2014.

James Beckerman, MD, cardiologist, medical director, Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, Portland, OR; author, The Flex Diet: Design Your Own Weight-Loss Plan, Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Merle Myerson, MD, EdD, FACC, cardiologist, director, Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai Roosevelt, New York.

CardioSmart: “Living With Coronary Artery Disease.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Coronary Heart Disease.”

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