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.
Dr. Goodman is board-certified in cardiology, internal medicine, lipidology, integrative medicine, and cardiac CT. He is the director of integrative medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center and a clinical professor of medicine at NYU.
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It's extremely important to realize
that if you've been told that
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you have heart failure, that you don't
think that you must stop exercising.
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Exercise is one of the most important
things you can do to help your heart get
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For exercises, number one, do it!
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There are many benefits of exercise.
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Because it strengthens the heart.
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When you use a muscle it gets stronger,
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the issue with heart failure is
that the muscle is getting weaker.
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It's unable to do the job so
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we like to think of exercise as
a way to strengthen your heart.
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And there are many studies that have shown
that people who are able to exercise
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20 minutes a day, so 150 minutes a week,
do much better, they feel better.
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They actually have better survival.
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So it's a very, very important part of
management and treatment of heart failure.
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Walking is really the easiest and
best thing to do.
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The goal would ultimately be that you
walk for 20 to 30 minutes everyday.
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You don't want to do it on
a day that is not conducive.
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So it's too cold or it's too hot.
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So you wanna make
the conditions outside or
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inside desirable, so
that you're not adding any stress.
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So if it's a day where you
can't be out walking, go and
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walk in the mall or
walk at the low level on a treadmill.
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Don't stress your heart,
exercise your heart.
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How would you know that
you're stressing your heart?
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You will become short of breath,
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you will develop palpitations,
you will start to feel dizzy.
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Any symptom you get
while you're exercising,
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you should stop because you
might have overdone it.
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So I tell patients,
if you're becoming very short of breath,
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if you have any chest pain,
if you have palpitations, or
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if you feel dizzy you
may be doing too much.
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So cut back.
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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/.)