How to Start an Exercise Routine with Heart Disease

Health Professional

Exercise is beneficial for everyone, and it is doable even if you have heart disease or have had a heart attack. Regular exercise can strengthen your heart, promote quicker recovery, and reduce dependence on medication.

Heart benefits of exercise include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased HDL cholesterol levels
  • Reduced triglycerides
  • Decreased LDL cholesterol levels
  • Reduced symptoms of heart failure
  • Improved circulation
  • Stronger heart muscle
  • Blood sugar control
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced angina

However, there is a level of caution you should take before starting an exercise routine if you have heart disease or have had a heart attack.

Discuss with your doctor first

It’s especially important to discuss exercise with your doctor if you recently had a heart attack, are experiencing chest pain/pressure or shortness of breath, have diabetes, or recently had a heart procedure.

Some questions to ask your doctor include…

  • What activities can I do?
  • Are sit ups, pushups, and other activities that strain muscles safe?
  • Can I do heavy lifting?
  • What intensity of exercise is safe (ie what heart rate should I aim for while exercising)?
  • How much exercise is okay?
  • Is it safe to walk, jog, run uphill?
  • Am I taking any medications that may interfere with exercise?
  • Do I need to adjust my medication schedule around exercise?
  • Do I need to monitor my pulse while exercising?
  • If I have adverse symptoms while exercising, what action should I take?

There is a chance, your doctor may opt to complete a stress test and/or electrocardiogram before clearing you for exercise.

You may be eligible for a cardiac rehabilitation program. Discuss with your doctor and obtain a referral if applicable.

6 general exercise tip. Don’t jump into a new exercise program. Take it slow and gradually build up to a full exercise routine. Give your body plenty of time to rest as you get started.

2. Avoid exercising outdoors in temperature extremes, such as too hot, too cold, or too humid. Temperature extremes can inhibit circulation, cause breathing difficulty, and chest pain. Excess humidity can cause you to fatigue quickly. During hot seasons, exercise in the morning or evening to avoid the worst of the heat. During cold seasons, utilize indoor facilities for exercise, such as an indoor mall or gym.

3. Stay hydrated. When exercising you need to drink even if you do not feel thirst. You need extra water if exercising in warm/hot temperatures.

4. Avoid extremely hot or cold showers and the sauna after exercise. Extreme temperatures can cause extra work for the heart.

5. If you have fallen out of your exercise routine or had to stop due to travels, illness, weather, etc., slowly work back into your exercise routine. Don’t assume you’ll be able to work out at the same level you were previously. Gradually increase your exercise level.

6. Don’t exercise if you are sick or were recently ill. Give your body sufficient time to fully recover before resuming your exercise routine.

Getting into a regular habit of exercising throughout the week can be difficult…even if you know the benefits are worth it. Utilize How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits to set yourself up for success.