Exercise benefits your heart and overall health. If you have heart disease, safely incorporating exercise into your daily routine can feel overwhelming.
A cardiac rehabilitation program overseen by experts, including cardiologists, registered nurses, exercise physiologists, dietitians and psychologists, is a helpful place to start. You will learn the best exercises for your heart condition and how to continue exercising unsupervised at home.
Why is exercise good for my heart?
For people with heart disease, staying active with the right exercises helps to:
- Strengthen the heart muscle
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Maintain a healthy heart rate
- Control blood sugar
- Make bones stronger
What are the best exercises for people with heart disease?
A cardiac rehabilitation program will include the following exercises.
Aerobics. Aerobic exercises improve cardiovascular conditioning by building endurance through the continuous motion of large muscles. Lower-impact exercises include walking, swimming, cycling and rowing. You can use an elliptical, treadmill, stationary bike or rowing machine.
Strength or resistance training. Developing and toning your muscles, in conjunction with aerobic exercise, strengthens your overall body, improves balance, loosens joints and expands your range of motion and flexibility. Training may include resistance bands, free weights (dumbbells), weight-training machines and pushing or pulling your body weight with push-ups, chin-ups and squats.
Strength training for people with heart disease can pose risks. Your doctor and cardiac rehabilitation team will provide guidance and may recommend beginning with light weights until your endurance increases.
Stretching exercises. Stretching is an essential part of any exercise program. You should always warm up and cool down before and after exercising with stretches that make your arms, legs and back more flexible. Stretching lessens the stress on your heart and helps to prevent sore muscles and joint pain.
What other exercises are good for heart disease?
Your body and mind benefit from being in motion. In addition to the core components of an exercise program, you can find a favorite physical activity like gardening, dancing or walking your dog. You can also join an exercise class targeted to your fitness level and approved by your doctor. Sharing your goals with others can help you stay on track.
For people with heart disease, extreme heat or cold can stress the heart and make exercising difficult. Talk to your doctor about suitable low-impact exercises like walking in an indoor mall.
How often should I exercise?
The intensity, frequency and duration of exercise will vary depending on factors including your heart condition, other medical conditions and age. The key is to start slowly with moderate exercise and increase your strength. You do not want to strain or overexert.
Research shows that exercising 150 minutes weekly is good for heart health. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five to seven days per week to help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Your cardiac rehabilitation team may advise you to exercise in 10-minute periods until you are ready for a full 30-minute program. For example, you can walk or use an exercise machine three times a day for 10 minutes each time.
Stop exercising if you experience any of the following:
- Chest pain (call 9-1-1 immediately)
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart rate
- Extreme sweatiness or coldness
Remember, exercise is essential if you have heart disease, but doing so safely will help to avoid further health complications.
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Find care at Catholic Health
Catholic Health’s DeMatteis Center for Cardiac Research and Education (Greenvale, NY) offers the largest medically staffed cardiac fitness and rehabilitation program on Long Island. Experts create customized programs for people with heart disease and those recovering from a heart condition such as a heart attack.
Talk to your doctor about joining a cardiac rehabilitation program. Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.