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When you have
heart failure, it’s very important to exercise
regularly. If you are not already active, your doctor may want you to
start an exercise program.
what’s safe for you depends on how bad your
heart failure is. But even if you can only do a small amount of
exercise, it’s better than not doing any exercise at
Have a checkup before you
start an exercise program. Your doctor probably will do an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) and
maybe an exercise stress test to see how much activity your
heart can safely handle.
Your doctor may recommend a cardiac rehabilitation
(“rehab”) program at a local hospital or clinic. Rehab will give you education and support that help you build new healthy habits, such as exercise.
Start out slowly,
exercising for only a few minutes at a comfortable rate. Then each day,
slowly try to increase the length of time and the
intensity of your workout.
You should not exercise during times
when your heart failure is not under control.
Set goals that you
can reach. If you expect too much, you are likely to get
discouraged and stop exercising.
How can you get started on an exercise program?
If you are in a cardiac rehab program, it will be designed just for you, based on your health and your goals. You will be supervised by doctors and other specialists. You will learn how to get started on an exercise program and how to exercise safely. You will also get support to help you succeed.
If you are not in cardiac rehab, talk with your doctor before you start exercising. To get started:
Make a list of concerns to discuss with your doctor. An exercise planning sheet(What is a PDF document?) can help you do this. This sheet can include things like exercises you should not do, whether you need to change how you take your medicine, and your activity goals.
Make an exercise plan with your doctor. An
exercise program usually consists of stretching, activities that increase your
heart rate, and strength training. Visit a library
or bookstore for information on exercise programs. Join a health club, walking
group, or YMCA. Many cities have senior centers that offer exercise programs
that don’t cost much.
Learn how to check your heart
rate. Your doctor can show you how to take your pulse and how fast it should be (target heart rate) when you
Start out slowly. Try parking
farther away from the store, or walk the mall before you
shop. Over time, you will increase your ability to do
Keep a record of what you
do. Now and then, read entries from months ago to see your progress.
It’s okay to cut back on your exercise if you are too
tired or not feeling well.
Tips for exercise success
Set realistic goals.
If you expect too much, you are likely to get discouraged
and stop exercising.
Choose a type of exercise that you enjoy.
Give yourself time. It can take months to get into the habit of exercising. After a
few months, you may find that you are looking forward to it.
Stay with it. It can be hard to stay with
an exercise plan. Try exercising with a friend. It is much easier to continue
an exercise program if you are doing it with someone else.
Reward yourself. Build in rewards along the
way that help you stay with your program.
When starting an exercise program
Pace yourself by
switching exercises. Rotate light workouts, such as short
walks, with more intense exercises, such as low-impact
aerobics or swimming.
Avoid exercising outdoors in
extreme weather or high humidity. When the weather
is bad, try exercising indoors at a gym or walking at a mall.
If you get palpitations, chest pain or pressure,
trouble breathing, or dizziness or lightheadedness, stop
exercising and try to rest. Call 911 if your chest pain does not go away.
Call your doctor if your other symptoms don’t go away.
Don’t take naps or lie down after exercise, because that
reduces your ability to exercise. Instead, sit down to
Take your pulse often or wear a heart rate monitor, and keep your pulse
within the range your doctor sets. Watch your pulse when walking up hills or
Be aware of how you feel during exercise. You should be able to talk easily without being out of
Other things to think about
Avoid exercises that
require or encourage holding your breath, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and
isometric exercises. Also avoid heavy lifting.
Do not take hot or cold showers or sauna baths after you
exercise. Medium temperatures are best-very hot
or very cold temperatures can be dangerous.
Ask your doctor if you need to change how you exercise
if your medicines change. New medicines can affect how fast your heart beats
and how you feel when you exercise.
Get back to exercise slowly if you’ve stopped your
workouts for more than just a couple of days.
Slowly increase to your regular activity level as
you are able to.