Please talk to your doctor or nurse about the best exercise routine for you. When you have heart failure, you may need to avoid certain exercises or have other restrictions based on your health.

This information is a guide to the overall benefits of exercise for patients with heart failure. This information may or may not apply to you.

Types of Exercise

There are 3 basic types of exercise — flexibility, cardiovascular/aerobic and strength training.

Flexibility. This type of exercise involves slow movement to lengthen the muscles. Flexibility exercises include stretching, tai chi and yoga. They are also used before and after exercising to prevent injury and strain. Benefits include better balance, range of motion and better movement in your joints.

Cardiovascular/aerobic (“cardio”). This type of exercise is steady and uses your large muscle groups. It improves the way your body uses oxygen and has the most impact on your heart health. Examples of aerobic exercises include walking at a fast pace, jogging, riding a bike (outdoor or stationary), jumping rope, cross-country skiing, rowing and low-impact and water aerobics. Benefits include lower blood pressure, lower heart rate and better breathing (since your heart doesn’t have to work as hard when you are active).

Strength training. This type of exercise involves repetitive muscle movement until the muscle becomes tired. Strength training usually involves lifting weights (free weights, weight machines, kettle bells) or using resistance tubes and bands. Benefits are stronger, more toned muscles; stronger bones; weight control (as you build muscle, your body burns more calories); and better balance and posture. Do not use weights heavier than 10 pounds.

Phases of Exercise

All exercise should include 3 phases — warm-up, conditioning, and cool-down.

Warm-up. This phase should last about 5 minutes. It helps your body get ready to exercise, reduces stress on your heart and muscles, and helps prevent sore muscles. A warm-up should include stretching, range-of-motion exercises and starting your activity at a low-intensity level.

Conditioning. This phase should last 20-30 minutes and includes the actual exercise you are doing. You are burning calories and gaining the benefits of exercise.
As you exercise, you should keep track of your intensity level, which is how hard you are exercising. As you get stronger, you can spend more time conditioning and work with greater intensity.

Cool down. This phase should last about 5 minutes. It helps your body recover from the conditioning phase. Your heart rate and blood pressure will slowly return to normal. During this phase, you can decrease the intensity of your exercise and do some of the same stretching you did during your warm-up. Do not sit down without a cool down. This can cause you to feel dizzy or have heart palpitations (fluttering in your chest).

Symptoms with Exercise

As you exercise, it is normal to feel short of breath, sweat and have a faster heartbeat than normal.When symptoms are not normal:

  • If you get extremely short of breath, weak, dizzy or lightheaded while exercising, slow your pace or rest. While resting, keep your feet up. If your symptoms continue, call your doctor or nurse.
  • If you have a fast or irregular heartbeat, rest and try to calm down. Check your pulse after 15 minutes. If it is higher than 120-150 beats per minute, call your doctor.
  • If you have any type of pain, do not continue that exercise. Talk to your doctor.
  • If you have pain or pressure in your chest, arm, neck, jaw or shoulder, call 911.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/27/2018.

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