Exercise for Heart Failure Patients

walkingOnce your heart failure is considered stable (or under control), you may resume some degree of regular physical activity or exercise. Studies have shown that exercise can actually strengthen your heart, decrease heart failure symptoms, and improve your overall quality of life. You will need to talk with your heart failure physician or nurse before you start or change an exercise program. Ask your provider for an exercise prescription with specific instructions about the intensity and duration of recommended activity. In some situations, your physician may order an exercise test to make sure you’re ready to resume work or start exercising.

How to incorporate physical activity into daily lifestyle:

  • Bring physical activity into your daily routine by gradually adding some household chores, gardening, or by walking the aisles at the grocery store. Or, when parking your car make a habit to choose a spot further away from the entrance to allow you extra walking steps. You decide how long and at what pace you want to engage in these activities.
  • Pace yourself so that you do not experience extreme shortness of breath or fatigue.
  • If you feel angina (pain in chest, back, arms, shoulders, or jaw), tiredness, or shortness of breath, stop and rest.
  • Be active with a relative or friend and, if possible, carry a cell phone for emergencies.
  • Pay attention to how you feel with normal daily activities such as getting dressed and walking around your home. If, during or following exercise, you have extreme tiredness or shortness of breath that does not improve with resting, then you should report this to your healthcare provider.

How to start an exercise program:

  • Begin with a simple activity approved by your healthcare provider such as walking, swimming, or riding a stationary bicycle.
  • Start at a comfortable pace for 5-15 minutes then increase or decrease the intensity based on how you feel. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your exercise, every 1-2 weeks, taking care to incorporate rest periods as needed.
  • Always walk on a flat surface, in moderate temperatures, with flat shoes and comfortable clothes.
  • Exercise with a friend or relative until you are comfortable exercising alone.
  • You should be able to talk in complete sentences while exercising.

Do not continue exercising if you develop the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing)
  • Feeling more tired or weak than usual
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Chest pain or tightness or discomfort in your back, jaw, neck, shoulders, or arms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain
  • Racing heart beat

Additional Exercising Resources:

Emory Heart Wise Risk Reduction Program