January 23, 2020

Exercise for People With Heart Failure

Feeling winded or short of breath with activity maybe one of the first signs of heart failure. It is often the symptom that brings people to the doctor.

Having heart failure means your heart can’t meet your body’s demand for oxygen-rich blood. The condition often causes fatigue and breathing problems during exertion. When the disease progresses, you may get out of breath at rest, too.

Doing aerobic exercise depends on the heart’s ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your organs and muscles. If you have heart failure, it may mean that your heart’s ventricles do not pump blood efficiently. This may be due to the heart muscle being too stiff or too weak.

Benefits of exercise

Having heart failure does not always mean that you have to stop exercising. In fact, exercise can be beneficial if you follow your doctor’s guidelines.

Ventricles in the hearts of healthy people expand a little to gather more blood for pumping during exercise. This is known as preload. Exercise may help increase preload for some people with heart failure. This means that after time, you may be able to exercise longer without symptoms. Exercising is also known to help treat depression, which is common in people with any chronic disease.

But even though exercise can often benefit those with heart failure, few actually do it. One study found that more than half the participants did no physical activity. And others don’t stick with exercise programs once they start them.

What kind of exercise is best?

Your doctor will tell you how much and what type of exercise is safe for you. He or she may recommend getting back into action by joining a cardiac rehabilitation program at your local hospital. Here your heart rate and blood pressure can be checked while you gradually increase your activity. This is done under the watchful eyes of experts who follow your doctor’s advice.

Your long-term goal may be to get 30 minutes of exercise daily. You can start with five to 10 minutes a day and move up slowly. Remember to warm up. People with heart failure may need to warm up a little longer than others.

When doing exercises, you will likely be monitored for breathing problems or accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

Aerobic exercise involving continuous rhythmic motion is good for your heart, lungs and blood circulation. This might include:


Bicycling or using a stationary bike


Water aerobics

Even dancing can help. One study found that people who waltzed for one hour, three times per week for eight weeks showed progress similar to those doing other aerobic exercises.

Resistance training (weightlifting) or isometric exercises (such as pushups and situps) are usually not recommended at the start. These exercises strain muscles against each other and may tax heart muscles too much.

Stick with it

Once you start, call your doctor if you are:

Short of breath at rest or with mild activity

Tired for more than a day after lots of activity

Remember that keeping active can often improve your quality of life.