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Exercise and Heart Disease

What if I Already Have a Heart Condition?

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, then you have all the more reason to exercise! Regular exercise has been shown to help ease the symptoms of chronic heart conditions (such as coronary heart disease and heart failure), speed healing after a heart attack or stroke, and help you live longer. Remember, your heart is a muscle, and it needs to be strengthened. And it’s never too late to start.

MORE: How to Get the Exercise You Need

Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have:
  • Chest pain
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Previous heart attack
  • Heart failure 
  • Another form of heart disease

Your doctor may want you to take an exercise stress test to identify what level of exercise will be safe and beneficial for you. For some people, taking part in a cardiac rehabilitation program is the best first step before exercising on their own.  

Cardiac Rehab and Heart Disease

Exercise is actually a key part of managing cardiovascular disease. Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program that involves exercise and other components to help improve heart health after a person has surgery, or suffers a heart attack or other significant cardiac event.

Despite its many benefits, research shows that just 1 in 3 people recovering from a heart attack are referred to cardiac rehabilitation. Of those who are, only 1 in 4 ever go. If you’ve had a heart attack or other cardiac event, ask your doctor about cardiac rehabilitation to help you make the changes you need to live longer and feel better.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

If you have a heart condition or are recovering from a cardiac event, work with your doctor to find the right exercise routine for you.

Here are some questions to ask:
  • How much exercise should I aim for, and how much is too much?
  • Which types of exercises are right for me? Are there ones I should avoid?
  • What should my target heart rate be during exercise?
  • Would you recommend that I use a device to track how many steps I take each day? What should my target number of steps be?
  • What’s the best way for me to build strength?
  • How much should I be stretching before and after exercising?
  • How much water should I drink while exercising?
  • What, if any, symptoms should I should watch for during exercise?
  • What should make me stop exercising?
  • Are there any limits on what activities I can do? Is it OK to have sex?
  • Do I qualify for a cardiac rehabilitation program?
  • I was prescribed nitroglycerin. Should I keep it with me when I exercise?

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Published: May 2017
Medical Reviewers: Andrew M. Freeman, MD, FACC; Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC, FAHA, FASPC; Jordan M. Prutkin, MD, FACC

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