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FAQ’s: Exercise & Heart Disease

This information was reviewed and approved by Andrew M. Freeman, MD, FACC, FACP (1/1/2016).

What Type of Exercise Is Best?

There are several forms of exercise that you should incorporate into every workout.

old man with yoga mat

  • Stretching: Stretching arms and legs before and after exercising helps prepare the muscles for activity and helps prevent injury and muscle strain. Regular stretching increases your range of motion and flexibility.

  • Cardiovascular or aerobic activity: This means continuous (ideally non-stop) physical activity using large muscle groups. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body's ability to use oxygen. Aerobic exercise has the most benefits for your heart. In fact, aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure and improve your breathing (by making it more efficient). Aerobic exercise includes anything that gets your heart rate up and challenges you:

    • Walking

    • Jogging

    • Jumping rope

    • Biking (indoor or outdoor)

    • Cross-country skiing

    • Ice and roller skating

    • Rowing and low-impact aerobics

    • Water aerobics

  • Strengthening exercises: These are repeated muscle contractions (tightening) until the muscle becomes tired. NOTE: For some people with heart failure, many strengthening exercises are not recommended.

How Often Should I Exercise?

To achieve maximum benefits, you should gradually work up to an aerobic session lasting 20 to 30 minutes, at least three to four times a week. The goal would be 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise. Exercising every other day will help you start a regular aerobic exercise schedule. The American Heart Association recommends working up to exercising on most days of the week. While the more exercise you can do the better, any amount of exercise is beneficial to your health.

What If I Can't Do 20 or 30 Minutes of Exercise?

Everyone has to start somewhere. As such, even if you walk for 5 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes, and it takes you 60 or even 90 minutes to complete 30 minutes of exercise, this is a good way to start. Over time, string the exercise together and have less and less break time. Some exercise is better than no exercise.

What Should I Include in My Program?

Every exercise session should include a warmup, conditioning phase and a cool down.

  • Warmup: This helps your body adjust slowly from rest to exercise. A warmup reduces the stress on your heart and muscles, slowly increases your breathing, circulation (heart rate) and body temperature. It also helps improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.

  • Conditioning: During the conditioning phase, the benefits of exercise are gained, and calories are burned. Be sure to monitor the intensity of the activity (check your heart rate). Continuous nonstop exercise is the goal. Don't overdo it.

  • Cool-down: This is the last phase of your exercise session. It allows your body to gradually recover from the conditioning phase. Your heart rate and blood pressure will return to near resting values. In fact, do not sit, stand still or lie down right after exercise. This may cause you to feel dizzy or lightheaded or have palpitations. Ideally, slowly decrease the intensity of your activity (often with low-paced walking). Stretching is a great way to end your exercise routine.

How Do I Know if I Am Working Hard Enough?

Your goal is to challenge yourself. Everyone's level to start is different. As such, you should be breathless, sweating and unable to complete a full sentence when you're working in the conditioning phase. Obviously if you develop chest pain, feel faint, turn pale or feel close to passing out, stop right away and sit down.

As time goes on, what you're doing will become easier and then too easy. If you're not challenged (i.e., breathless, sweating and unable to complete a full sentence), walk or do your activity faster or at an incline.

Challenge is the key to growth and recovery. But don't overdo it! Always check with your doctor first.

How Can I Avoid Overdoing It?

Here are a few guidelines:

It Takes Time:

  • As such, gradually increase your activity level, especially if you have not been exercising regularly. Don't run a marathon on day one!

  • Wait at least 60 – 90 minutes after eating a meal before exercising.

  • When drinking liquids during exercise, remember to follow your fluid restriction guidelines.

  • Warm up and cool down!

  • Exercise at a steady pace. Keep a pace that allows you to still talk during the activity. Keep an exercise log.

Stick with It:

  • Have fun! Add variety; make it enjoyable!

  • Do it daily! Plan to exercise at the same time every day. Add a variety of exercises so that you do not get bored. Make it part of your lifestyle and daily routine.

  • Get an exercise "buddy." This will help you stay motivated.