How much exercise can I do and does it help?

Shortness of breath—especially during any type of exertion—is one of the cardinal signs of heart failure. That may lead you to think that you shouldn’t exert yourself. In fact, the opposite is true.

Aerobic exercise is generally safe for patients with heart failure, but you should confirm this with your physician before embarking on a training program. Regular exercise may actually benefit heart failure patients by training the muscles to extract oxygen from the blood more efficiently. This in turn helps your body compensate for weakened heart muscle function.

Exercise is an important part of your treatment plan. It’s normal to feel anxious if you haven’t been active recently. Once you begin regular exercise, you may start to feel better. Talk to your provider about what types of exercise you should do, and how much.

Here are some general exercise guidelines for people with heart failure.

  • Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day. Walking, riding a stationary bike, and water aerobics are all good options.
  • If you haven’t been active lately, start with 5 to 10 minutes of exercise a day. Exercise a little more each time until you reach 30 minutes a day.
  • Strength training exercises are safe as long as you’re not straining with weights that are too heavy. If you want to push yourself, do more reps with lighter weights.

To exercise safely:

  • Pay close attention to any changes you notice in your symptoms, during or after activity.
  • Call your provider at the first sign of a problem.
  • Don’t overdo it. Call your provider if you feel fatigued for more than a day after you exercise.
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