Heart Disease: Safe Exercise

How will exercise help me if I have heart disease?

People who are physically active have a lower risk of a heart attack than those who are not active. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or have had heart surgery, exercise can:

  • Help your heart muscle pump more blood with less work and use oxygen better.
  • Lower your blood pressure and resting heart rate.
  • Lower your blood sugar.
  • Lower your total blood cholesterol.
  • Help you sleep.
  • Improve your energy level and confidence.
  • Help relieve stress.

What kinds of exercise should I do?

Always talk about your exercise program with your healthcare provider to make sure it is safe for you. Ask your provider:

  • Which exercises are best?
  • How much exercise should I do?
  • Will the medicines I take affect the way I exercise?
  • What activities should I avoid?
  • Should I wear a heart rate monitor when I exercise?

Your provider may recommend a stress test to find out how much exercise is safe for you.

Warming up and cooling down

  • Muscles that are warmed-up before exercise are more flexible and less likely to be injured. Brisk walking can be a good way to get your muscles warm and ready to go.
  • After your muscles are warmed up, you may also want to stretch. Some people feel better if they stretch before and after exercise. Stretching after exercise is more important than stretching before exercise. It decreases the risk for being sore or injured.
  • When you are ready to stop, cool down by gradually slowing your activity.

Aerobic exercise

  • Aerobic exercise is the most important part of an exercise program if you have heart disease. Aerobic exercise increases your breathing and heart rate. This is important because it helps keep your heart and lungs healthy. Examples include walking, swimming, riding a bike, and dancing. Most team sports are aerobic. But, you need to do them briskly so that your heart and breathing rate go up. A healthy goal for most people is to exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes or more each week, in addition to your regular activities. You don’t need to do 30 minutes of activity all at once. You can do shorter periods, at least 10 minutes each time. Aim for a moderate level of effort that lets you talk while moving, but without getting out of breath.
  • Your provider may tell you that once your heart gets to a certain number of heartbeats per minute, you should stop or slow your exercising. If so, you will need to check your heart rate. To do this, check your pulse or use a digital heart rate monitor. Ask your provider if you should also check your blood pressure when you exercise.


  • Start slowly with strength exercises such as weight lifting, stair stepping, or doing sit-ups or push-ups. Talk with your provider about ways to build strength without straining.


  • Flexibility exercises can help you move more easily and use the full range of motion of your joints. Examples include stretching, yoga, and tai chi. Being flexible makes it easier to do many activities and also decreases your risk of getting hurt.

Changing your workouts can help you stick with your exercise program. If you enjoy walking, this may simply mean changing your route or sometimes walking with a friend. Or you may want to try another type of exercise. You can use exercise machines like stationary bikes, treadmills, and elliptical trainers in your home or join a gym. Many exercise machines let you read, watch TV, or listen to music while you are working out.

What should I watch out for?

  • Stop exercising immediately if you develop a fast or irregular heartbeat; have chest pressure or pain; or have pain in the neck, arm, jaw, or shoulder. If you keep having the symptoms for more than 5 minutes after stopping exercise, call 911.
  • Get your provider’s OK before you lift weights, use a weight machine, jog, or swim.
  • Use common sense. Rest between sets to keep from getting too tired. If your exercise session leaves you exhausted, you’ve probably done too much. Do less next time.
  • Don’t exercise outdoors when it is too cold, hot, or humid. High humidity may make you tire more quickly. Cold temperatures cause your blood vessels to get smaller so that not as much blood flows. Cold weather can make it harder to breathe and cause your heart to work harder. Hot weather can also increase the workload on your heart. During hot weather, exercise in the early morning or evening. Try walking in an indoor shopping mall when the weather is very hot or very cold.
  • Make sure you drink water before, during, and after exercise, even before you feel thirsty. Check with your healthcare provider about how much water you should drink.
  • Do not exercise if you are feeling sick or have a fever. Wait a few days after all symptoms are gone before restarting your exercise program, unless your healthcare provider gives other directions.
  • If you have not been able to exercise for a few days (for example, due to illness, vacation, or bad weather), start slowly and gradually increase your workout until you are back to where you were.
  • Talk with your provider about your exercise plan if you get weak, dizzy, or lightheaded, or have other symptoms when exercising.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-15
Last reviewed: 2014-12-15
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

myTuftsMed is our new online patient portal that provides you with access to your medical information in one place. MyTuftsMed can be accessed online or from your mobile device providing a convenient way to manage your health care needs from wherever you are.

With myTuftsMed, you can:

  1. View your health information including your medications, test results, scheduled appointments, medical bills even if you have multiple doctors in different locations.
  2. Make appointments at your convenience, complete pre-visit forms and medical questionnaires and find care or an emergency room.
  3. Connect with a doctor no matter where you are.
  4. Keep track of your children’s and family members’ medical care, view upcoming appointments, book visits and review test results.
  5. Check in on family members who need extra help, all from your private account.


Your privacy is important to us. Learn more about ourwebsite privacy policy. X