Exercise Your Way to a Stronger Heart
By Robert Mohapatra, MD, MPH, FACC, Virtua Cardiology
Not long ago, if you were diagnosed with heart failure, you’d be told to stop strenuous activities and take it easy.
The prevailing wisdom was that too much strenuous activity would strain an already weakened heart. Today, we know that not only is exercise safe, it can help relieve heart failure symptoms.
Physical activity can help heart failure patients:
- Improve muscle strength and endurance
- Enhance abilities to perform daily activities, such as dressing, eating, and walking
- Reduce hospitalizations for symptom flare-ups
- Boost overall quality of life and sense of well-being
Steps for a winning workout
To be more active with heart failure:
- Talk with your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program.
- Pick an activity you like. Walking and riding a stationary bike are two good choices to start.
- Be sure to warm up before starting and cool down afterward.
- Increase your level of activity slowly. This is especially important if you haven’t been exercising regularly.
- Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of daily exercise.
- Include flexibility (stretching, yoga, tai chi) and strength training (free weights, resistance bands) activities into your routine.
- Rest in between activities.
- Exercise when you have the most energy. For many people with heart failure, that is in the morning.
- Exercise with a friend or family member. It’s easier to keep going when you have a partner. Be sure to follow recommended social distancing guidelines.
- Avoid exercising outside if it’s colder than 40 degrees, warmer than 80 degrees, humid, or the air quality is poor.
- If you very tired, sick, or making medicine changes, skip exercise that day.
Know when to stop
As you exercise, it’s normal to feel a little short of breath, sweat, and have a faster heartbeat than normal. If you become dizzy, feel nauseous, or experience pain in your chest, shoulders, arms, neck or jaw, stop your activity and rest.
If your symptoms do not improve after you stop, call 911 right away.
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Updated September 8, 2020