Exercise Do's and Don'ts

If you have heart failure, you need to make time for moderate aerobic physical activity, like walking, swimming or biking. You should always stay within your physician's recommendations and your own comfort zone. Here's a checklist of what to do and what to avoid.

  • Wear comfortable clothes and flat shoes with laces or sneakers.
  • Start slowly. Gradually build up to at least 30 minutes of activity, five or more times per week (or whatever your doctor recommends). If you don't have a full 30 minutes, try two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions to meet your goal.
  • Exercise at the same time of day so it becomes a habit. For example, you might walk Monday through Friday from noon to 12:30 p.m.
  • Drink a cup of water before, during and after exercising (but check with the doctor, because some people need to limit their fluid intake).
  • Ask family and friends to join you. You'll be more likely to keep exercising.
  • Note your activities on a calendar or in a log book. Write down the distance or length of time of your activity and how you feel after each session. If you miss a day, plan a make-up day or add 10-15 minutes to your next session.
  • Use variety to keep your interest up. Walk one day, swim the next time, then go for a bike ride on the weekend.
  • Join an exercise group, health club or YMCA. Many churches and senior centers offer exercise programs, too. (Get your doctor's permission first.)
  • Look for chances to be more active during the day. Walk the mall before shopping, choose a flight of stairs over an escalator, or take 10-15 minute walking breaks while watching TV or sitting for some other activity.

  • Get discouraged if you stop for awhile. Get started again gradually and work up to your old pace.
  • Do isometric exercises that require holding your breath, bearing down or sudden bursts of energy. If you're taking part in an exercise class or physical therapy, ask the leader or therapist what these are. Also avoid lifting weights and competitive or contact sports, such as football.
  • Engage in any activity that causes chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness. If these happen, stop what you're doing right away.
  • Exercise right after meals, when it's very hot or humid, or when you just don't feel up to it.