Exercise and Activity for Patients with Heart Failure
Regular exercise has many benefits for patients with heart failure. A regular activity program will help:
Theresa Cary MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, CHFN, CCRN, and Clinical Nurse Specialist in heart failure talks about the importance of exercise for patients with heart failure.
- Reduce heart disease risk factors and the chance of having future heart problems
- Strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system
- Improve circulation and help the body use oxygen better
- Help increase energy levels so you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath
- Improve muscle tone and strength
- Improve balance and joint flexibility
Your doctor will let you know when it is the right time to begin an exercise program.
It may take many months to develop the optimal exercise program. Please refer to the heart failure binder “Your Guide to Managing Heart Failure” Exercise Activity Guidelines section for more information.
Here are some general guidelines from our cardiac rehabilitation staff to get started.
- Start slowly and gradually increase your walking pace over three minutes until the activity feels moderate (slightly increased breathing, but should still be able to talk with someone). If you feel too short of breath, slow down your walking pace.
- Walk at a moderate pace for about five-ten minutes the first time and each day try to add one or two minutes as you are able. You may tolerate shorter bursts of activity spread throughout the day. Aim for a goal of walking 30-45 minutes per day with rest intervals as needed; on most days of the week.
- Remember to cool down at the end of your exercise by gradually walking slower for the last three minute of your exercise.
- Rest when you need to, but try not to lie down after exercise, as it reduces exercise tolerance.
- If walking outside, walk with someone or in short distances close to home so you do not get too far away and have a hard time walking home.
- Choose an aerobic activity that you enjoy such as walking (outside or on a treadmill), stationary cycling, swimming, and rowing or water aerobics.
- Ask your doctor before lifting weights.
- Exercise should be done regularly to gain the benefits; national guidelines suggest most days of the week if not everyday.
- Try to exercise at the same time everyday to establish a habit and to minimize any variables that may impact your exercise (timing of meals, medications, work schedule, etc.)
- Remember that some shortness of breath or a faster heart rate is expected when you exercise. But - if you have excessive shortness of breath, a rapid heart rate that does not resolve after 15 minutes of rest, dizziness, chest discomfort, or weakness, stop your exercise, rest and notify your doctor.
- You may be on medications that may affect your exercise tolerance; keep your exercise expectations day to day as you go through recovery.
Ask your doctor about an outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program to assist with developing the best exercise program and assisting with lifestyle changes such as heart healthy diet, quitting smoking, weight loss and stress management. Cardiac rehabilitation may not be covered by insurance companies for patients with heart failure so please call your insurance company first. If not covered, many patients feel more in control and reassured when they have one appointment for initial recommendations and guidelines. There may also be low cost phase three programs in your community that will provide the support you need to get on a heart healthy path.
More information on cardiac rehabilitation: