I have heart failure, are you SURE I can exercise?

The heart is an important muscle in our body that is critical to continued health and overall function. Like any other muscle, the heart requires exercise to remain strong. If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, your heart does not pump blood around your body as well as it once did; however, exercise (in combination with medicine) is still important to preserve the strength that remains!

What are the benefits?

Studies show that exercise training for people diagnosed with heart failure has many benefits, including:

  • An improvement in your heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body, making exercise easier to tolerate
  • An improvement in symptoms of depression for patients with both heart failure and depression
  • An increase in quality of life, making it easier for you to continue to do your daily activities
  • A reduced risk of going to the hospital due to heart failure symptoms
How do I get started?

Some cardiology clinics have a formal cardiac rehabilitation program for certain eligible patients. This is designed to help patients living with heart failure manage their condition and set goals for the future. Healthcare providers in cardiac rehabilitation programs can help customize a safe exercise routine for you based on your specific needs and unique health history. If you do not have access to a cardiac rehabilitation program, ask your cardiologist or your primary care provider for exercise recommendations.

What are some general guidelines to keep in mind?
  • Do not exercise if your heart failure is not under control.
    • If you are experiencing symptoms at rest, seek medical attention right away. If you are experiencing symptoms with exercise, call your healthcare provider.
  • Start slowly! When exercising, it is important to establish your normal level of activity and build up from this baseline. Consider wearing a step counter or exercise watch to track your progress.
  • Warm up and cool down- To prepare your body, make sure you include at least 15 minutes of a warm-up routine prior to starting exercise. To transition back to a state of rest, have a cool down period.
  • Talk to your doctor before lifting weights or engaging in strenuous activity. Consider starting with low-impact exercise, such as walking or stationary cycling.
  • Manage expectations and look for support. Consider joining a gym, recruiting a friend or family member as an exercise buddy, or attending a support group. You do not have to cope with health-related challenges alone!

For questions about heart failure, exercise in heart failure, or managing heart failure medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist today!

Prepared by Alexi Duenas PharmD

  1. Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/departments/heart/patient-education/recovery-care/heart-failure/exercise-activity
  2. Heidenreich PA, Bozkurt B, Aguilar D, Allen LA, Byun JJ, Colvin MM, Deswal A, Drazner MH, Dunlay SM, Evers LR, Fang JC, Fedson SE, Fonarow GC, Hayek SS, Hernandez AF, Khazanie P, Kittleson MM, Lee CS, Link MS, Milano CA, Nnacheta LC, Sandhu AT, Stevenson LW, Vardeny O, Vest AR, Yancy CW. 2022 AHA/ACC/HFSA guideline for the management of heart failure: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Joint Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2022;145:e895–e1032. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000001063
  3. Patti A, Merlo L, Ambrosetti M, Sarto P. Exercise-Based Cardiac Rehabilitation Programs in Heart Failure Patients. Heart Fail Clin. 2021;17(2):263-271. doi:10.1016/j.hfc.2021.01.007
  4. Pina IL, Apstein CS, Balady GJ, Belardinelli R, Chaitman BR, Duscha BD, Fletcher BJ, Fleg JL, Myers JN, Sullivan MJ. Exercise and Heart Failure. Circulation. 2003; 107:1210-1225. D\doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.0000055013.92097.40