The Best Exercises for Heart Failure

Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. Like everyone else, he needs exercise. This is true even with heart failure.

In most cases, light to moderate exercise will not make your condition worse. In fact, it’s not just safe, it’s the best medicine, says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, a medical expert and volunteer cardiologist with the American Heart Association Go Red for Women in New York City.

It slows down your heart rate, opens your arteries, and makes your heart work better, she says. That means less shortness of breath and less time spent in the hospital – and possibly a longer life.

Exercise can help you do the activities you enjoy, adds Steinbaum.

The key is to do it smart to keep your ticker as strong as possible. Ask your doctor what activities are safe for you and what you should do, says Brittany Ferri, MS, OTR / L, occupational therapist in Rochester, NY.

These 3 types can make the heart stronger

Isaac Gonzalez, 38, knows the power of exercise, besides eating right and sticking to medication. The man from California is living with heart failure because of a problem he was born with. Gonzalez stretches and does push-ups every morning before heading to work.

Stretching circulates his blood and keeps him flexible for his work with high-voltage electrical cables, so he protects himself from injury.

A good goal for most people is at least 30 minutes a day of activity most days of the week, says Steinbaum.

Three types of exercise work together to make your heart and body stronger.

Flexibility. These workouts can improve balance, loosen your joints, and help you with range of motion. Exercises like yoga use meditation, breathing exercises and slow movements. It adds flexibility, improves breathing and decreases stress.

The ancient Chinese practice of tai chi is often referred to as moving meditation. It uses slow dance-like movements that can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and give you more energy. A study of people with heart failure found that it improved their quality of life.


Cardio (cardiovascular). Regular cardio exercise strengthens the heart muscle and keeps your blood flowing to improve circulation. Here’s how to get started:

  • Put one foot in front of the other. Take a walk to help your heart. If you start to exercise or if your doctor tells you to slow down, do so for only about 10 minutes and stay light. A good rule of thumb: you should be able to comfortably carry on a conversation while you walk. Add a few minutes at a time to get used to exercising. You don’t have to bite for half an hour of non-stop movement. You may be able to manage short blocks of activity several times a day more easily than a long exercise session.
  • Do something you love. Biking, dancing, swimming, garden or bowl – they’re all heart healthy, according to Steinbaum. If you choose something that you like, you’re more likely to stick with it, and it becomes a habit and part of your routine. This is the key to success, says Ferri.

Strength. This type of exercise uses repeated muscle movements until the one you are working on gets tired. Strength training tones your muscles and also strengthens your bones. You can even lose weight because the muscles built burn more calories. Resistance bands and light weights can help with strength training. But people with heart failure should be very careful with this type of exercise. Ask your doctor for advice. They may tell you not to lift anything above a certain weight.

Do not skip the 5-minute warm-up and cool-down before and after active exercise. “The warm-up can be simple stretches of the arms, legs and back, or basic tai chi or yoga poses,” says Ferri. It can prevent muscle pain and reduce stress on your heart.

Then cool off by doing stretches similar to the ones you did to warm up. This helps your heart and breathing rate to return to normal. Don’t sit up too quickly without resting. Your heart rate may increase or you may have dizziness or other dangerous symptoms.

You might benefit from group fitness classes because they can help you stick to a routine. But they don’t leave much room for maneuver, as they are usually “one size fits all”. They may not meet your individual needs for rest or water breaks, adds Ferri.


Exercise caution

Ideally, people with heart failure should start exercising in a safe hospital program before starting a home program on their own, says Steinbaum. People who have just been diagnosed and are in the early stages of the disease can usually exercise more than people with severe heart failure. But that’s not always the case, says Ferri. It is therefore important that you are monitored every step of the way. This includes checking vital signs such as heart rate, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, and the number of breaths you take each minute (respiratory rate).

It is important to tell your doctor about symptoms such as severe fatigue, dizziness or shortness of breath. If an activity is painful, don’t do it. Of course, if you have chest pain, stop and call your doctor or 911.

Mild symptoms are normal and shouldn’t stop you from exercising. They should go away once you build up your strength and energy.

Take small bites

Gonzalez understands that it can be difficult to get up from the sofa or bed when you have low energy or other symptoms of heart failure. Her advice: First, eat heart-healthy foods to give you the energy you need to move, then start exercising slowly. “Take it in small bites. Don’t try to eat the whole cake at once. Move your arms and legs as you sit down, if that’s all you can do. Optionally stretch or take short walks outside.

“The most important thing is to love yourself. Your body is your temple, and if you take care of it, your body will begin to heal itself. “



Suzanne Steinbaum DO, American Heart Association Go Red for Women, volunteer medical expert and cardiologist in New York City.

Brittany Ferri, MS, OTR / L, and occupational therapist in Rochester, NY.

Cleveland Clinic: “Heart Failure: Exercise.”

The Mayo Clinic: “Tai chi: a gentle way to fight stress.”

Heart Failure ESC: “Exercise and Heart Failure: An Update.”

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: “Activity and Exercise for Patients with Heart Failure.”

Isaac Gonzalez, heart failure patient from California.

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