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How to Get the Exercise You Need

Your body needs at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity activity (or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity) plus two sessions per week of strength training that engages all major muscle groups.

Here’s how to build a safe—and fun!—heart-healthy routine.

Types of Exercises

Try to get a combination of aerobic (“cardio”) exercise and muscle strength training.

Aerobic exercises are those that make you breathe hard and get your heart pumping. They provide an energy boost and are terrific for heart health. Muscle-strengthening exercises are important for balance and bone health. Both types of exercise burn calories.

 Examples of aerobic or "cardio" exercises
Examples of stength training exercises
  • Brisk walking, jogging or running
  • Swimming, water aerobics or Aqua Zumba
  • Cycling
  • Aerobic/dance-style classes
  • Playing tennis or basketball
  • Cross country skiing or snow shoeing

  • Lifting free weights or barbells
  • Using resistance bands to stretch and strengthen muscles
  • Sit-ups, push-ups and planks
  • Yoga, Pilates or tai chi
  • Workouts that engage your core
  • Kettlebell workouts

How to Avoid Overdoing It

Most people can safely exercise without any special medical evaluation. If you have chest pain, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, previous heart attack, heart failure or another form of heart disease, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.  

Know When to Stop!
Stop exercising right away and call 911 if you experience chest pain or discomfort, are short of breath even when you stop exercising/exerting yourself, have dizziness or nausea, or if you notice your heart racing or “skipping a beat.”
Exercise safety tips:  
  • If you’re new to exercise, start with shorter or less-intensive sessions and work your way up to five or more 30-minute sessions per week.
  • Train your body and ramp up gradually before doing harder exercises.
  • Before and after each workout, warm up/cool down with lighter exercises and stretches.
  • Stay hydrated throughout your workout (if you have heart failure, ask your doctor about how much water you should drink).
  • Learn your target heart rate and how to monitor your pulse. Research shows wrist-worn heart monitors aren’t always correct, so it’s best to learn how to check your pulse yourself.
  • Listen to your muscles. It’s normal to feel some mild soreness after exercising, but it shouldn’t be too painful.
  • Avoid exercising outside in extreme cold, heat or humidity, or on days with high levels of air pollution.

“Breathless with exercise should be gauged by the breath test,” says Andrew Freeman, MD, director of clinical cardiology at National Jewish Health in Denver. That means exercising to a level during which only a few words can be said.

“Anything more should be scaled back or signals you should seek a physician’s input. If you are feeling short of breath and turning pale, having chest pain or getting lightheaded, then exercise needs to stop. You may need to seek urgent care,” Freeman says.

Remember, if you have a heart condition or are recovering from a cardiac event, talk with your health care team to find the right routine for you.

Resources

American College of Sports Medicine
Subscribe for e-newsletters on health and fitness
www.acsm.org/public-information/fit

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Get the basics on physical activity
www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity

Walk with a Doc
Find a health-focused walking group near you
walkwithadoc.org

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Learn ways to incorporate exercise into your routine
www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/phy_act.htm

U.S. National Library of Medicine
Find fitness research, tutorials and tools
medlineplus.gov/exerciseandphysicalfitness.html

< Back to Exercise and Heart Disease


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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