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Sharp Health News

The importance of exercise after heart failure

June 30, 2022

People exercising at home

Living with a chronic health condition, such as heart failure, involves managing symptoms and adopting healthy behaviors. Following a healthy diet along with daily exercise have been shown to improve heart strength, so that people with heart failure can live full lives.

Although heart failure can make it difficult to exercise, it’s important to not be afraid of physical activity. Exercise, when done safely and under the guidance of a clinical professional, can help relieve heart failure symptoms, reduce the risk of future hospitalizations and boost energy.

Exercise increases the heart’s pumping strength, delivering more blood to muscles throughout the body. And according to Alex Angeli, a clinical exercise physiologist with the cardiac rehabilitation program at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, exercise also improves gas exchanges in the lungs.

“This means more oxygen will be available for muscles to produce energy,” Angeli says. “As a result, you will feel less tired and short of breath when exerting yourself. You will also have more energy and endurance to go about daily life.”

Getting started
Angeli suggests starting slowly and building up gradually when beginning an exercise program. A person can start with as little as 10 minutes of light to moderate aerobic exercise per day, he says, and build up to 30 minutes per day.

“It is also important for people with heart failure to warm up for five to 10 minutes,” Angeli says. “Warming up prepares the muscles and heart for exercise, which in turn helps prevent you from getting tired or short of breath quickly.”

Angeli also recommends prioritizing frequency and duration of exercise over intensity. “It’s better to do a little exercise most days of the week, rather than exercising vigorously for only one or two days a week,” he says.

Be sure to speak with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen. They can help you identify exercises that are right for you and may recommend joining a cardiac rehabilitation program.

Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised and structured program, which is recommended for some patients with heart failure. In the program, rehabilitation staff monitor and coach participants through exercises safely.

When exercising or at rest, it’s important to listen to your body. Tell your doctor about any new symptoms, such as chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness or increased shortness of breath.

“Staying physically active not only helps our heart and body, but also helps us feel good,” says Angeli. “The key when exercising with heart failure is to start slowly and keep your doctor updated on your progress, so that adjustments can be made as needed.”

Looking to regain strength after heart failure? Watch our video series on resistance band exercises, which are effective and easy to do at home.

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