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Regular exercise is important. Start your exercise program slowly and work up to your abilities.


Never start an exercise program before talking with your health care provider.

Choose an exercise you enjoy doing (such as walking, riding a stationary bike, swimming, gardening). If you can tolerate your exercise, slowly increase what you are doing by adding one minute each day.

Use the following general exercise guidelines.


If you skip more than 2 days of exercise, restart your program at a lower level and gradually increase again.

  • Wear layers of loose-fitting clothing. Wear comfortable athletic shoes.
  • Wait up to 2 hours after eating a full meal and after taking most medicines to exercise.
  • Do your exercising in comfortable temperatures. If the weather is too hot or cold, exercise indoors.
  • Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes until low-level activity slowly raises your heart rate and increases blood flow to the muscles you'll be exercising.
  • Drink 6 to 8 ounces of water before you exercise unless you are on a fluid restriction.
  • Stretch in slow, controlled movements that extend your muscle fibers and put your joints through their full range of motion. (Do not bounce while you stretch.)
  • Do aerobic exercises that use large muscle groups and raise your heart rate (biking, walking and swimming).
  • At the end of your workout, do low-level activity and stretching that gradually allows your heart rate to return to normal and helps you cool down.
  • Drink 6 to 8 ounces of water after you exercise unless you are on a fluid restriction.
  • Do not exercise if you are not feeling well (such as a cold, the flu or a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • If you smoke, quit! Your doctor, nurse or case manager can give you information on smoking cessation. (Do not smoke 1 hour before or after you exercise.)
  • Good exercise choices

    • Choose exercise that is low impact with light to moderate intensity.
    • Walking is the best choice because it is easy to do.
    • Swimming puts less stress on your joints.
    • A stationary bicycle may put less stress on your hips, knees and feet.

    If you can, you may want to do two or three different types of exercise each week for variety.

  • Do not take a hot or cold shower or bath for at least 15 minutes before or after exercise.
  • Do not drink alcohol right before or after exercise.
  • Avoid exercises that involve straining, pushing, pulling or heavy lifting when there is little or no movement of your body or if you have to hold your breath.
  • Be careful of exercises in which both arms are above your head for a long time. This can lead to fatigue.

How to breathe while you exercise

You may find yourself short of breath while you exercise. Some of this is normal. Rate your level of breathlessness as:

  1. mild (noticeable only to you)
  2. mild difficulty (noticeable to someone else)
  3. moderate difficulty (you can keep exercising)
  4. severe difficulty (you cannot keep exercising).

You should stay within the first two on the scale. If you reach the third, you should cool down or stop if you need to catch your breath.



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