After a heart attack it is important to begin a regular activity program to help reduce the chance of having additional heart problems. Your doctor will let you know when it is the right time to begin an exercise program. Most patients are given a prescription for Cardiac Rehabilitation. Patients who join cardiac rehabilitation programs have a faster and safer recovery and better outcomes after a heart attack. It is important to follow your cardiac rehabilitation team’s instructions for activity.

Everyone recovers at a different pace. This may be related to your activity level before your heart attack or the amount of damage to your heart muscle. It may take many months to develop the optimal exercise program. Here are some general guidelines from our cardiac rehabilitation staff to get started.

  1. Start slowly and gradually increase your walking pace over 3 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.
  2. Walk at a moderate pace for about 10 minutes the first time and each day try to add one or two minutes. By the end of a month, aim for walking 30 minutes most days of the week.
  3. Remember to cool down at the end of your exercise by gradually walking slower for the last 3 minute of your exercise.
  4. 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.
  5. Chose an activity that you enjoy such as walking (outside or on a treadmill), stationary cycling, rowing or water aerobics.
  6. Ask your doctor before lifting weights.
  7. Exercise should be done regularly to gain the benefits; national guidelines suggest most days of the week if not everyday.
  8. 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.)
  9. If you notice any symptoms such as excessive shortness of breath, chest discomfort, palpitations that do not go away or increasing fatigue, stop your exercise and notify your doctor.
  10. After a heart attack many things may have changed including energy level and medications. These may affect your exercise tolerance; keep your exercise expectations day to day as you go through the healing process.
  11. Enroll in an outpatient cardiac rehab 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 is covered by most insurance companies for patients after a heart attack.

Returning to exercise after a heart attack or beginning a new exercise program can be challenging or anxiety provoking. Starting will small amounts and steadily building your program over time will help to set you up for success. A cardiac rehabilitation program will provide you with the support you need to get on a heart healthy path.

Find a Cleveland Clinic cardiac rehabilitation program near you. If you are not from the Cleveland area, ask your local doctor for a program near you.