Yes, you can (and should) stay active.
Upon receiving a health failure diagnosis and realizing your heart is weaker than it should be, it might be tempting to slow down, rest, and avoid physical activity. After all, exercise forces the heart to pump harder, and isn’t that a little risky for a heart that’s already struggling?
Not so fast. Science shows that in most cases, mild physical activity helps—not hurts—when it comes to treating heart failure. Exercising with heart failure actually plays a key role in managing the condition and improving heart failure symptoms.
Cardiologist Dennis A. Goodman, MD, has four simple guidelines to exercise safely for patients with heart failure.
1: Just do it. It’s counterintuitive, but using your heart (just like any other muscle) will strengthen it over time. This prevents some weakening of the heart that is associated with heart failure.
2: Studies have found that 20-30 minutes of daily exercise is beneficial to the health, wellness, and life spans of heart failure patients.
3: Add more walking to your routine. You don’t need to run a marathon or train for a powerlifting competition to strengthen your heart. Lace up your walking shoes and grab the dog leash. That 20-minute walk is the perfect way to strengthen your heart safely when you have heart failure.
4: Be sensible. Consider the environment you’re exercising in, such as the weather or the terrain. A sweltering sun, frigid wind, or monstrous hills can all add extra stress, which can be harmful when exercising with heart failure. To get the benefits of exercise safely, choose a day or space that won’t add additional burdens to your heart function. For example, on a cold day, try walking inside, either on a treadmill or around a mall.
5. Don’t overdo it. Your goal is to exercise your heart, not to stress it. Stick to low-intensity workouts, like walking, gardening, or yoga. For example, here’s a 10-minute yoga routine that’s perfect for beginners.
6: If you start feeling any heart failure symptoms while you are exercising, stop. This includes palpitations, dizziness, or shortness of breath. Talk to your doctor about which kinds of exercise and what level of exertion is safe for you, and get moving.
For more tips on managing heart failure, here are eight healthy habits for living with heart failure.
Anderson K, Mariosa D, Adami HO, et al. Dose-response relationship of total and leisure time physical activity to risk of heart failure. Circ Heart Failure 2014;7:701-708.
Heart failure: Exercise. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Clinic, 2016. (Accessed May 23, 2017 at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/heart-failure-exercise.)
Safe exercise for patients with heart disease. Denver, CO: National Jewish Health, 2016. (Accessed May 23, 2017 at https://www.nationaljewish.org/conditions/cardio/exercise-and-heart-disease/.)