If you skip more than two days of exercise, restart your program at a lower level and slowly increase again.
Check with your health care provider to see if any of your heart medicine could have an effect on your heart rate.

Basic exercise guidelines

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

Use the following general exercise guidelines:

  • Wear layers of loose-fitting clothing. Wear comfortable athletic shoes.
  • Wait up to two 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 five to 10 minutes until low-level activity slowly raises your heart rate.
  • Drink six to eight 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 exercise that uses large muscle groups nonstop and raises your heart rate (like biking, walking and swimming).
  • At the end of your workout, do low-level activity and stretching that slowly allows your heart rate to return to normal and helps you cool down.
  • Drink six to eight 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 temperature higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • If you smoke, quit! Your doctor, nurse or case manager can give you information on quitting smoking. If you cannot quit, do not smoke one hour before or after you exercise.
  • 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.

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. If your locations to walk are limited, you may use a treadmill.
  • A stationary bicycle may put less stress on your hips, knees and feet. Be sure your seat is the proper height. Your knees should only be slightly bent when the pedal is at the lowest point.
  • Swimming puts less stress on your joints.

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

How to breathe while you exercise

You may find yourself short of breath while you are exercising. Some of this is normal. You can rate your level of breathlessness on this scale:

  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.

Signs you should stop exercising

You always need to be aware of the way your body responds to what you are doing. This will tell you if you are working at a level that is good for you. The following signs mean your body is not dealing well with exercise:

  • dizzy or lightheaded feelings
  • nausea and vomiting
  • cold sweat
  • shortness of breath that makes talking difficult
  • unusual fatigue or extreme exhaustion
  • feeling that your heart is pounding or racing
  • fainting or black-out spells
  • a feeling that your heart is skipping beats or has become irregular
  • chest pain or pressure
  • pain or pressure in your neck, jaw, teeth and arm or between your shoulder blades
  • any new orthopedic problems, such as joint or muscle pain

If you have any of these symptoms, stop what you are doing and rest. If they do not go away after rest, or if they continue to limit your activity, call your health care provider.

If these symptoms are severe, call 911 and use your nitroglycerin as directed.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Heart Failure, fifth edition, 1-931876-20-7
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 05/01/2015