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How should I exercise if I have heart disease?

Jennifer H. Haythe, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
To determine how you should exercise if you have heart disease, discuss with your doctor what kinds of exercises are appropriate for your heart condition. If you have heart disease you should do the following while exercising:
  • Pace yourself.
  • Avoid bursts of activity after periods of rest.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Avoid exercise in extremes of heat and cold.
  • Avoid heavy lifting/pushing/pulling.
Abruptly starting or stopping an exercise session is asking for trouble. It increases your risk for injury, heart rhythm and blood pressure problems, dizziness, and muscle soreness. Instead, your exercise session should start with a warm-up period, exercise at moderate intensity, and then finish with a cool-down period.
  • Warming up doesn't require different exercises -- it simply means working less intensely than during the peak of your exercise session. For example, if you're walking, begin and end your walk at a slower pace.
  • Cooling down should also involve stretching exercises to improve your flexibility when your muscles are warm.
Warm up
  • 3 to 5 minutes
  • Intensity: low
Aerobic activity
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Intensity: moderate to somewhat hard
Cool down
  • 3 to 5 minutes
  • Intensity: low
Stretching
  • 5 to 10 minutes
  • Intensity: low
You can help avoid injury and soreness if you warm up and cool down. Also, you might find that you enjoy your sessions more if you take time to ease into and out of them gradually.
Research finds that even moderate amounts of physical activity are associated with lower death rates from coronary heart disease. The 2011 American Heart Association Guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. If you need to lose weight or maintain weight loss, the recommendation rises to 60 to 90 minutes of moderate exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week. However, if you have severe coronary heart disease (CHD), you may have to restrict your exercise somewhat, so check with your healthcare professional to find out what kinds and amounts of exercise are best for you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.