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Finding the Right Treatment for Heart Failure

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7 Safe Exercises for Heart Failure

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Evelyn Creekmore on October 30, 2022

When you have heart failure (HF), you may be tempted to take it easy, because regular activity can be more challenging. That’s because with heart failure, your heart isn’t able to pump blood out to the rest of your body like it should. Your body gets less oxygen as a result, which can make movement exhausting. And while medications and dietary changes can significantly help, it’s also important to be as active as you can.

Fortunately, there are several great exercises that can help you strengthen your heart safely.

  • senior-woman-stretching-arms-with-exercise-band
    1. Stretching
    Stretching helps people with heart failure keep their balance and move better. As with any exercise for people with heart failure, plan to do it at the time of day you tend to feel most energetic. This is usually in the morning. Stretching for five minutes before and after any other type of exercise is also recommended. Generally, people with heart disease should work up to doing some form of exercise for 20 to 30 minutes on most days.
  • Group of Young People Practicing Tai Chi Outdoor
    2. Tai chi
    Tai chi has been practiced in China for hundreds of years. It helps strengthen the heart and improve stamina—as much as aerobic exercise, according to some studies. Like stretching, Tai chi focuses on improving flexibility. It also incorporates elements of meditation and controlled breathing for relaxation. The movements of Tai chi are slow and flowing. It can be done in a standing or seated position, so there’s no need to get on the floor.
  • senior-woman-doing-yoga
    3. Yoga
    Like Tai chi, yoga is a mind-body exercise. It brings together body poses and breathing to boost balance, flexibility, and strength while busting stress. One study showed that an eight-week yoga program for people with heart failure reduced inflammation and improved the ability to exercise and quality of life. Another study showed that twice-weekly yoga sessions reduced the number of atrial fibrillations (irregular or rapid heartbeat). Different types of yoga focus on different fitness goals. Weigh options with your doctor.
  • Man exercising
    4. Strength training
    Strength training helps people with heart failure build stronger muscles and bones and improves their ability to add aerobic exercise to their day. Weights are lifted on a regular basis in the form of hand weights, resistance bands, kettlebells, or weight machines. Note that people with heart disease should avoid lifting weights over 10 pounds. You may feel soreness or stiffness after strength training at first, but you shouldn’t have pain. Keep your doctor in the loop as you go.
  • walking-outdoors-senior-couple
    5. Walking
    Your walking routine can begin with just five minutes a day. As you get into a groove, increase your minutes slowly, as well as the number of days a week you walk. Invest in walking shoes that are comfortable, stable, and supportive, with rubber soles for traction. Engaging a walking partner will create daily accountability. Over time, you may even be ready for light jogging or bicycling. If you have any of the following symptoms, stop exercising and talk with your doctor: dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, or irregular heartbeat.
  • exercise-woman-in-swimming-pool
    6. Swimming
    The benefits of exercising in water can equal those of brisk walking. It’s not as good as walking for building bone strength, but it offers the unique advantage of less stress on joints. As with walking, you can begin swimming for just five minutes a day and increase the duration slowly. You can try swimming laps, walking in water, or water aerobics. You may also want to complement your water exercise with a bone-strengthening hobby like dancing or gardening.
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  • Physical therapy
    7. Cardiac rehabilitation
    Ask your doctor if you’re eligible to participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program, or cardiac rehab. Most insurance covers it. Cardiac rehabilitation is an exercise routine designed by an exercise specialist or physical therapist. Most programs consist of three exercise sessions a week for 12 weeks. Heart rate and blood pressure are monitored throughout to ensure safety and progress. In addition to planned exercise, nutritional counseling, mental health support, and heart-healthy lifestyle tips are often included.
  • senior couple bike riding
    When your doctor thinks you’re ready, exercise can strengthen your heart, reduce symptoms like chest pain, and help keep your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar in check. Don’t think you have to do it alone–recruit a friend or loved one to join you. It’s important to talk with your doctor before you begin an exercise program. Plus, make sure to increase activity gradually and take breaks when needed.
Exercise for Heart Failure | Heart Failure Recovery
  1. Cardiac Rehabilitation. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.,Overview
  2. Being active when you have heart disease. U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  3. Tai chi: A gentle exercise that may help heal your heart. Harvard Medical School.'s%20research%20suggests%20that%20for,those%20who%20did%20aerobic%20exercise.
  4. The Yoga-Heart Connection. John Hopkins Medicine.,which%20contributes%20to%20heart%20disease.
  5. Atrial fibrillation. Mayo Clinic.
  6. Strength Training and Heart Disease. University of Rochester Medical Center.
  7. Activity and exercise for patients with heart failure. University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.
  8. Heart Failure: Exercise. Cleveland Clinic.,low%2Dimpact%20and%20water%20aerobics.
  9. Exercising in water: Big heart benefits and little downside. Harvard Medical School.
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Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 30
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.