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Activity and exercise

Activity isn't exercise

Activities are things you do each day, such as brushing your teeth, making a meal, crafts, hobbies and housework.


Remember, your heart is a muscle.

Exercises are physical exertion activities designed for building muscle strength, such as walking, swimming or lifting weights.

When exercise is done on a regular basis, it helps increase your tolerance for activity and more exercise. It also improves your overall health and reduces your risk for heart disease.

Your health care team will talk with you about what the correct level of activity and exercise is for you.


If you've had a hospital stay, see your regular doctor within 7 to 10 days of your discharge for instructions and activity guidelines. If you were seen by a cardiac rehabilitation specialist, follow the exercise plan prescribed for you.

Do not do light housework (dusting and dishes) to the point of fatigue. Do not lift items like laundry or groceries that weigh more than 10 to 15 pounds at one time. Also use caution when lifting or carrying children or grandchildren who weigh more than 10 to 15 pounds.

In general, avoid these strenuous activities unless your doctor says they are OK: snow shoveling, snow blowing, garden tilling, snowmobiling, bailing hay, changing a tire, pushing a stalled car, chopping wood, skiing, tennis, racquetball, running and weightlifting.

Be careful when working in a stooped or bent position for long periods of time.

Sexual activity

You may be concerned about resuming sexual activity. Most cardiac patients can enjoy sexual activity with some minor changes.

Did you know?

Certain medicines can affect sexual response. If you find a change in your sexual desire or ability, talk with your health care team.

The following tips can help you share physical closeness and emotional intimacy with your partner:

  • Communication is a good foundation for a great sex life.
  • Reintroduce yourself to sexual activity gradually.
  • Some men may have difficulty getting and maintaining an erection. This is normal and usually temporary. Over time, if this continues to be a problem, speak to your health care team about medicine options that may be right for you.
  • A big dinner isn't the best beginning to sexual intimacy. After you've eaten, especially a large meal, your heart must work hard to help digestion. This is not a good time to add physical stress. Try sexual activity before your romantic dinner or try romantic hors d'ouevres, instead. After a meal, wait 1 or 2 hours before having sex.
  • Tip

    The following is important to remember about sex:

    • Talk together, have fun together, play together.
    • Stay close. Give each other foot rubs, hugs, kisses, caresses and cuddles.
    • Set the room temperature at a comfortable range.
    • Avoid sex when you are angry, anxious or resentful.
    • Treat sexual activity as a form of exercise and follow the same guidelines as for other exercise.

  • Don't give yourself set time restrictions — relax.
  • If you've been drinking alcohol, do not have sexual activity.
  • Use sexual positions that are comfortable for you and don't cause you to become tired or exhausted.
  • For the first 6 to 8 weeks after heart surgery, avoid positions which put pressure on your chest or tension on your arms.
  • Enjoy sexual activity when you are rested.
  • If you have shortness of breath or chest discomfort, stop and rest.


Ask your health care team if driving is safe. If it is not, ask when it may be again. If you have just had heart surgery or a heart attack, you may be asked to avoid driving in stressful heavy traffic and to avoid long driving trips.


Your health care team will talk with you about when you can return to work. It depends upon the work that you do.

For some people, it's therapeutic to return to work quickly; for others, the rest is more helpful. Some people start back to work part time, or begin with shortened days. Talk with your supervisor and/or employer to arrange new hours and responsibilities that suit your health right now.


Consult your health care team before planning or taking any trip. Remember:

  • It is safe to fly on commercial airlines.
  • A vacation to an area that has higher altitudes can increase the work of your heart and cause fatigue.
  • If you have heart failure, there may be specific altitude and air travel restrictions. Check with your doctor.
  • Carry enough medicines to last your entire trip and pack an extra couple of days in case you have delays.
    • Keep your medicine schedule with you.
    • Make sure your medicines are not outdated.
    • Carry copies of your prescriptions with you, too.
  • Carry your medicines in carry-on luggage — don't store them in baggage you plan to check.
  • Carry a copy of your medical history with you. (Ask your health care team for a copy.)
  • Check with your medical insurance carrier about out-of-state and foreign coverage.
  • If needed, call ahead to the airline to arrange transportation for yourself within the airport (rides or wheelchairs from the door to the airplane).
  • Call ahead to the airline to arrange a "heart-healthy" meal to be served during your flight.



Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts