What type of exercise can I do if I have heart failure?

Dr. Nasir Z. Sulemanjee, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

If you have heart failure, try to vary what you do when exercising to stay motivated. This can help keep you from getting bored. Here are a few tips:

  • If you exercise four times a week, do two of one activity and two of another. For instance, walk two times and bike two times, instead of all walking.
  • Exercise with a friend or a group.
  • Keep a log of your progress.
  • Set small goals and reward yourself each time you reach a goal.
Dr. Dev G. Vaz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Walking is the best exercise. About 30 minutes of walking daily is good; 60 minutes would be even better. It does not have to be fast paced. Consistency is more important than intensity. The HF-ACTION trial showed that there was a significant decrease in mortality with regular supervised exercise.

Just because you were diagnosed with heart failure does not mean you should not exercise. In fact, your heart is a muscle and like any other muscle it needs to work to stay healthy. Exercise helps to strengthen your body. You should exercise every day.

The goal for most people with heart failure is to do 30 minutes of exercise each day. Remember to start slowly. Start by exercising 5 to 10 minutes a day. Increase the time of your exercise until you reach 30 minutes a day. When you have finished exercising, you should feel like you could still do more. If you feel wiped out, then you have done too much.

Great ways to exercise if you have heart failure are:

  • Walking: Take a friend with you for company. During bad weather, try walking at a mall.
  • Biking: Try a stationary bike.
  • Swimming: Join water aerobics at a health club or your community pool.

In the beginning, you may feel anxious about starting physical activities or you may feel too weak or tired to exercise. However, once you begin regular exercise, you will begin to feel better. By keeping active, you may be able to do more of the things you enjoy.

Call your doctor or nurse if:

  • You plan to start any kind of exercise program
  • You are short of breath at rest or with mild activity
  • You are tired for more than a day after a lot of activity

Talk to your doctor before beginning a walking program (or some other exercise you enjoy). Gradual exercise training often lessens symptoms while increasing your energy and overall quality of life.

Walking on a treadmill, bicycling and swimming allow you to use the large muscle groups. Find an exercise that doesn't make you too tired and requires such effort that you can't talk while doing it. Avoid lifting really heavy objects.

As long as you know your limits and don't overdo it, you should try to be as active as you can. The best exercise plan is one that is tailored to your current health, habits and interests. Walking, bicycling, golfing and gardening are all examples of daily activities that can help you maintain your strength and feel better.

Stay active every day if you have heart failure. Make sure to talk with your healthcare providers before starting any activity or exercise plan. Don't be discouraged if you're only able to exercise for a short while, or at a slow pace. Even modest amounts of exercise can help you. You may have good days and bad days. Stop and rest if you feel tired or short of breath.

Linda Rohyans
Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist

Individuals with heart failure should stay active and work with his or her healthcare team in designing an exercise program that is tailored to his or her specific needs. Many times, individuals can be referred into a Cardiac Rehabilitation program. Even if you are not able to walk or perform moderate activity, you can actually perform meaningful exercise while sitting in a chair watching TV! By performing "foot pumps" (pointing toes up towards face and down towards floor), you are able to exercise the big muscles in your legs which can help the blood get back to your heart. Grab a couple of canned items (1-pound or so) and while you're sitting, just hold the cans and move your arms up and down; just do one arm at a time if you get tired.

Stay active! You'll feel better for it!

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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.