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Get Active

You may have been a couch potato before your heart attack. Or someone who worked out regularly. Either way, you might feel unsure about physical activities now that you're home from the hospital. Here's something to reassure and motivate you: A recent study found that exercising during the first year after a heart attack can cut your chances of dying by half or more compared to if you stay inactive.

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How Soon Can You Start?

Your doctor will explain when it’s right for you. But in many cases, you may be encouraged to do some gentle stretching and light walking just a few days after your heart attack.

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Get Support in Cardiac Rehab

In this program, you work with physical therapists, nutritionists, and other experts to learn about healthy eating, safe exercises, how to ease stress, and other tips. Cardiac rehab can help people of all ages with mild, moderate, and severe heart problems. It can be especially helpful if you’re elderly and want to boost your strength and mobility. Most programs last about 3 months, and many insurers will pay for it if you’re eligible.

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Start With Walking

This is one of the best and simplest workouts to do after a heart attack. Start with very short walks, maybe just around your home or yard. From there, work up to 3-4 minute walks. Rest for 2 minutes, then go another short distance. Build your way up to 30-45 minutes of walking that’s brisk enough to work your body but still lets you carry on a conversation.

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Pace Yourself

Pick an activity or hobby that you enjoy, such as biking, swimming, walking, or gardening, that keeps you moving and will get your heart pumping. Do it for just a few minutes a day at first and build up slowly. Listen to your body. If you're so short of breath that you can't talk, you're pushing too hard. Ask your doctor what your weekly exercise goals should be. For the average adult, it's 150 minutes a week.

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Avoid Heavy Weights

Strength training to build your muscles can benefit your heart. But keep the weights light and go easy. For several weeks after your heart attack, avoid heavy lifting, shoveling snow, or other straining tasks. Doing too much can spike your heart rate and blood pressure. Instead, build up your aerobic fitness first. Then take up light resistance training.

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Check the Temperatures

If the weather is colder than 40 degrees or warmer than 80 degrees, work out indoors. Do the same on days when the air quality is bad. Extreme heat and cold or smog can stress your heart. Avoid Bikram yoga or hot yoga, where the rooms can heat up to 105 degrees.

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Warm Up and Cool Down

These steps are helpful with any workouts. But they’re especially important for you because they help protect your heart from stress. Warm up for 5 minutes to raise your heart rate gradually. You could do that by walking. Or start your activity at a slower pace. When you you’re done working out, cool down to gently lower your heart rate and body temperature. End with stretching: Your muscles will still be warm, and it'll improve your flexibility and range of motion.

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Watch for Warning Signs

Stop exercising and get medical help right away if you have pain or pressure in your chest, arms, neck, jaw, or stomach; feel dizzy, weak, or suddenly tired; have nausea or start vomiting; are short of breath for more than 10 minutes; have a very fast or irregular heartbeat; or notice pain or swelling in your legs.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/07/2021 Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 07, 2021

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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SOURCES:

Journal of the American Heart Association: "Increased Physical Activity Post–Myocardial Infarction Is Related to Reduced Mortality: Results From the SWEDEHEART Registry," "Strong Implications But Weak Evidence for Strength Training."

American Heart Association: "Exercise after heart attack may improve survival," "What is Cardiac Rehabilitation?" "How much physical activity do you need?" "Warm Up, Cool Down," "Working Out Safely After a Heart Attack."

American Family Physician: "Heart Attack: Getting Back into Your Life After a Heart Attack."

CDC: "How Cardiac Rehabilitation Can Help Heal Your Heart," "Unhealthy Air, Unhealthy Heart."

Cleveland Clinic: "Exercise & Activity After a Heart Attack," "How Cold Weather Can Spell Trouble for Your Heart and Lungs."

Heart Failure Society of America: "Module 5: Exercise and Activity with Heart Failure."

Northwestern Medicine: "Exercise and Your Heart."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Can shoveling snow put your heart at risk?" "Heat is hard on the heart; simple precautions can ease the strain."

American Council on Exercise: "ACE Study Examines Effects of Bikram Yoga on Core Body Temps."

Mayo Clinic: "Aerobic exercise: How to warm up and cool down."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Tips for Recovering and Staying Well After a Heart Attack."

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 07, 2021

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.