Exercise After a Heart Attack: What Cardiologists Want You to Know

Working out post-heart attack is actually essential for recovery.

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If you’ve experienced a heart attack, getting back into a fitness routine may seem scary—especially if you’ve ever felt heart disease symptoms during exercise. “A most common concern for a person after a heart attack about exercise is having another heart attack. And studies have shown that that risk is very low,” says cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Health in New York City.

In fact, in many cases doctors recommend that heart attack survivors get more physical activity after their cardiac event than they did before their heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. “After a heart attack it is even more important to exercise, because this is how you will regain the strength of your heart,” says Joan Pagano, an exercise physiologist in New York City.

As essential as it is to exercise after having a heart attack, it’s equally important to build your strength slowly, and listen to your body and doctor. “The risk of exercising after a heart attack are that you do too much too soon. You need to have a gradual progression starting with a cardiac rehab program. They would guide you into a regular fitness training program,” says Pagano.

Ease Into Exercise with Cardiac Rehab

One of the best things you can do after your heart attack is join a cardiac rehabilitation program. “During cardiac rehab, they don’t just watch and monitor the patients doing exercise on the treadmill or on the bicycle, but they also provide counseling and nutritionists that can really get them on the right path,” says Rachel Bond, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Cardiac rehabilitation provides everything you need to stay healthy after a heart attack—all in one place:

  • Exercise counseling and training: “Cardiac rehabilitation exercise entails multi-station exercise, meaning that you go on a bicycle, a treadmill, [and] do weight training. The exercise program is about an hour and that helps people to gain confidence to re-enter exercise after they graduate, you know, go back to some of their regular activities,” says Dr. Goldberg.
  • Education for heart-healthy living: Your cardiac rehab healthcare team will help you manage your heart disease risk factors, reduce stress, and adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle.
  • Help with your condition: Going to cardiac rehab can help you better understand your condition and medications, as well as your progress toward getting healthier.


The Best Post-Heart Attack Exercises

“The best kinds of exercise after a heart attack are moderate types of exercise,” says Pagano. Moderate-intensity cardio exercises include walking, swimming, and cycling. “Once you get your doctor’s clearance, you can experiment with the pace that you’re walking at so that you can challenge yourself to a safe level,” she says.

“It’s important to really get to know your body post-heart attack. If you experience any unusual symptoms, like profuse sweating, maybe when you’re not working out so hard, dizziness, lightheadedness, or any kind of chest pain … you need to stop the exercise and speak to your doctor,” says Pagano.