Let's talk about exercising with a heart condition - where do you start?!

Many hospitals offer cardiac rehab - make sure you ask if you are eligible. This is a great way to get started with your exercise. The team of cardiac nurses and exercise instructors will make sure that you are exercising safely, give you confidence and teach you all about how to build up gradually. When I am assessing someone for the first time for my cardiac rehab program, I always make sure that I find out as much information as possible from them so that I understand not only all about their heart condition, but what they WANT to get out of cardiac rehab. It may be to walk the dog the old route again, it may be to get running again or it may be to have more energy to do all the things they love. I find what is most important is what is your GOAL? Have a think about what it is specifically you want to achieve from getting fitter and returning to exercise after a heart condition.

Some ideas for goals are:

  • Increase your energy levels so that you don’t need to sleep in the afternoon.

  • Double the distance that you can currently walk in 3 months eg if you can walk 5000 steps per day without feeling too tired, aim to be doing 10000 in 3 months time.

  • Go down 1-2 belt notches in 2 months time.

  • Do a 15 minute exercise routine at home every day.

  • Stop using technology in bed so that sleep improves.

  • Eat more vegetables with every meal.

Have you set some goals but they still feel so far away?  Even if it feels like your goals are impossible from where you are right now, you'll be surprised how much you will achieve over the course of a year so don't despair - keep giving it a little more each day and before you know it, some huge improvements will have been made. What are your goals?
Don't forget to join my Health Hearties Facebook group HERE - we now have over 160 members who give helpful tips and advice about all things heart related including exercise, medications, diet and more. Come join us!

How to get started when exercising with a heart condtion

There is almost no disease that exercise doesn't benefit from regular exercise. As such, if you've had a heart attack, have heart failure, an arrhythmia or other heart disease, doesn't mean that you can't do regular exercise (even if you don't feel like it right now!). In fact, with regular exercise (greater than 150 minutes a week), you can improve your recovery, improve heart function and even get off of some of the medications you're on.

Cardiovascular benefits of exercise include:

  • Strengthening your heart and cardiovascular system

  • Improving your circulation and helping your body use oxygen better

  • Improving heart failure symptoms

  • Lowering blood pressure

  • Improving cholesterol levels

Make sure that you get the "OK" and some guidelines from your doctor before you start.

Important things to know about exercising with a heart condition

  • AVOID isometric exercises such as pushups and sit-ups. Isometric exercises involve straining muscles against other muscles or an immovable object and often causes you to hold your breath, which increases your blood pressure.

  • AVOID exercises that involve pushing heavy weights above your heard eg shoulder press. This causes an increase in thoracic pressure and can increase your blood pressure.

  • DON’T exercise outdoors when it is extremely cold, hot or humid without checking with your doctor first. High humidity may cause you to tire more quickly and become dehydrated. Extreme temperatures can interfere with circulation, make breathing difficult and cause chest pain. Better choices are indoor activities such as a circuit or using a treadmill.

  • Make sure you stay HYDRATED. It is important to drink water even before you feel thirsty, aiming for around 500ml per hour of exercise. But, be careful not to drink too much water if you have heart failure - check with your doctor if you should be limiting the amount you drink.

  • If your exercise program has been interrupted for more than a few days (for example, due to illness, holiday or bad weather), make sure you ease back into the routine. Start with a reduced level of activity, and gradually increase it until you are back where you started.


  • DON’T exercise if you are not feeling well or were very recently ill. You should wait a few days after all symptoms disappear before restarting the exercise program. If uncertain, check with your doctor first.

  • DON’T exercise if you have very high blood pressure - it needs to be under control/treated first.

  • DON’T exercise if you have unstable angina or are waiting for test results or treatment.

  • REDUCE the intensity of the exercise, slow down or stop and rest if you become overly fatigued or short of breath. Discuss the symptoms with your doctor if they have become worse than previously.

  • If you have persistent shortness of breath, rest and call your doctor and get reviewed. The doctor may make changes in medications, diet or fluid restrictions.

  • Slow down or stop the exercise if you develop a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Check your pulse after you have rested for 15 minutes. If it remains above 120 beats per minute at rest, call your doctor. If you have an arrhythmia, it is safe to exercise however aim to work at an intensity just below where you start to feel breathless.

  • If you experience pain, don't ignore it. If you have chest pain or pain anywhere else in the body, slow down and then stop the exercise. If you have a GTN spray, use it and wait 5 mins. If the pain subsides, you can resume the exercise if you feel able. If the chest pain continues, take up to 3 doses of GTN spray and if chest pain persists call an ambulance.

Exercises to include

  • Walking - build it up gradually. You may have been given a guide by a physio after your heart attack or surgery. Get a step counter/activity tracker to keep track of how much you are doing so that you can see an improvement. Aim to add around 10% extra each week. E.g if you currently can do 2500 steps per day, aim for 2750 per day next week. Here is an easy step counter you can use, or use the free app on your iphone, or if you want something more high tech, the new Fitbit looks good: check it out here.

  • Create an indoor circuit. Aim to do each exercise for 30 seconds. To make things easier, start by doing the exercises seated. To make them harder, add in hand weights (use food cans to begin with and then you could buy a set of small weights,these ones are good). Choose from:

    • Marching on the spot

    • Heel raises

    • Sit to stand or squat

    • Bicep curl

    • Arm raises out to the side

    • High knees

    • Wall press up

    • Tricep kickbacks

  • See if there is a phase 4 cardiac rehab class in your area that you can join in. Search for one here: http://phase-4.cardiac-rehabilitation.net/

  • Come and have an exercise session with me! I’d love to help. If you don’t live near East Molesey, Surrey (UK), then I can create an online program specific to you.

Let me know if you have any questions at all by contacting me HERE.