Can You Still Exercise With Heart Failure? Physical Activity Benefits

Can you still exercise with heart failure

Performing light to moderate exercises is a great way to strengthen your heart muscles after being diagnosed with heart failure.

Yes, you can perform light to moderate exercise even after being diagnosed with heart failure. Consult with your doctor to know which exercises you can safely perform.

  • Heart failure is also referred to as congestive heart failure (CHF), which is a life-threatening, progressive, systemic cardiovascular disease, where the pumping capacity of the heart muscles diminish.
  • As a result, the heart cannot pump sufficient blood to the body and cannot keep up with the body’s oxygen demand. There is reduced exercise tolerance and endurance, affecting the quality of life.
  • Nearly 6.2 million people in the United States and two percent of the world population are diagnosed with heart failure.

Regular exercise strengthens your heart muscle and allows it to pump enough blood even if you have heart failure. You can start cardiac rehabilitation immediately after diagnosis of heart failure.

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the most prominent causes of the progression of heart failure. Adopting lifestyle changes and increased activity can result in a stronger heart, improved health, and may reverse a few risk factors that prevent further progression of heart failure. 

The heart strengthens with physical exercise like every other muscle in the body.

Which type of exercise is the best for the heart?

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), moderate exercise for 30 minutes five days a week is recommended for most people. You must consult with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen if you have any heart condition.

  • Moderate exercise
    • Begin with five minutes of exercise; it is important to make it into your regular routine.
    • You may begin with a five-minute daily stroll at lunchtime or by going up and down a staircase for five minutes at a time.
    • Gradually increase your exercise time by a few minutes every week until you accomplish your objective.
    • If you feel short of breath easily with some exercise, begin with some basic arm and leg exercises on the bed or chair, such as:
      • Leg and arm circles
      • Knee raises
      • Rolling on the bed
      • Sitting to standing
    • Setting reasonable goals makes it simpler to succeed.
    • You may observe some immediate beneficial changes in your body with exercise.
  • Vigorous exercise
    • Aerobic dance, cycling, uphill trekking, swimming, and jumping rope are all great ways to prepare your heart and lungs.
    • Stop-and-go games, such as basketball, tennis, and soccer can help.
    • Aerobic activities that engage the upper arms appear to provide more protection than others.
    • Brisk walking is the best shot for heart health and can be done in the place of rowing, swimming, or team sports.

It is important to have an active lifestyle and to engage in regular physical activity. Consult your doctor to choose a workout that is appropriate for you to stay fit and healthy.

10 warning signs to stop exercising

Though exercise can be extremely helpful, it is equally crucial not to overexert yourself or ignore warning signs while exercising.

The following are some symptoms to look out for and immediately stop exercising:

  1. Extreme shortness of breath
  2. Overly fatigued
  3. Weakness
  4. Dizziness
  5. Lightheadedness
  6. Irregular or very fast heartbeat
  7. Pulse rate above 120 beats per minute
  8. Pressure and pain in the chest
  9. Pain or pressure in the arms, neck, jaw, or shoulders
  10. Vomiting

In this situation, slow down and if symptoms persist even after stopping the exercise, seek medical attention and discuss your symptoms with your doctor, and get treated right away.

It is recommended not to exercise if you are ill or have been ill lately. Before you resume your workout schedule, you should wait a few days after all symptoms have subsided. If you are unsure, consult your doctor first.

What is the difference between regular physical activity and exercise?

Being physically active is not always the same as performing exercises. It is a common misconception that being in a non-sedentary profession or being active in performing chores provides you with enough exercise. Completing daily tasks or wandering around is usually not continuous. To obtain the metabolic benefits, you must engage in at least 15 to 20 minutes of continuous activity.

A systematically performed exercise engages almost all the muscles in your body and improves blood circulation, drains lymph from all corners of the body. This facilitates tissue repair, strengthening all the muscles.

However, any action is preferable to none. Simply working in the garden, getting up to change the channel instead of using the remote, performing housework, and using the stairs instead of the elevator can all help your heart. You must motivate yourself to take small walks during the day whenever possible.


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What is the importance of physical activity in heart failure?

A lack of exercise or physical activity promotes heart failure symptoms, such as dyspnea on exertion and muscle fatigue. This may make regular activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, showering, and cleaning, more difficult.

As your degree of physical activity declines, so does blood circulation to the muscles in your limbs. This causes even more dyspnea and muscle fatigue when engaging in any physical exercise.

Physical activity can help reverse this process and increase muscle strength and dyspnea.

Is it safe for everyone with heart failure to exercise?

If you are obese, overweight, or have been sedentary for a long time, you should begin with simple exercises. Furthermore, before beginning an exercise regimen, you should get a complete checkup done by your doctor.

  • Ask your doctor what heart rates you should aim for while exercising, especially if you are older than 50 years, pregnant, or have a disease that makes exercise difficult. Start with simple exercises and gradually increase the intensity.
  • Drink plenty of water, including a glass before and after exercising, and always have a water bottle with you. Keeping the body hydrated helps prevent heat exhaustion and dehydration.
  • Immediately stop exercising if you feel lightheaded, disoriented, or have chest discomfort, dizziness, or nausea and consult a doctor right away.

You should never increase physical activity or perform vigorous exercises on the weekend while being sedentary for the rest of the week. A study published in the journal Circulation suggests that occasional exercisers, especially older adults, who push out too hard, risk having a heart attack. Any activity is preferable to none, but inactive people should exercise modestly.

The good news is that most patients with heart disease may maintain an active lifestyle. You can begin reaping the benefits of exercise as soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead. You will feel more energized, stronger, and less stressed.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/10/2022


Image Source: iStock Images

Piña IL, Apstein CS, Balady GJ, et al. Exercise and heart failure: A statement from the American Heart Association Committee on exercise, rehabilitation, and prevention. Circulation. 2003 Mar 4;107(8):1210-25.

University of Michigan Health System. Coronary Artery Disease: Exercising for a Healthy Heart.

The University of Iowa. Activity and exercise for patients with heart failure.

Medline Plus. Being active when you have heart disease.

Paddock C. Heart failure risk could be reversed with exercise program. Medical News Today.

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