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Heart Failure: Exercise for a Healthy Heart

A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Fortunately, it's a risk factor that you can do something about. Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has many benefits. It can:

  • Strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system.
  • Improve your circulation and help your body use oxygen better.
  • Improve your heart failure symptoms.
  • Increase energy levels so you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath.
  • Increase endurance.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Improve muscle tone and strength.
  • Improve balance and joint flexibility.
  • Strengthen bones.
  • Help reduce body fat and help you reach a healthy weight.
  • Help reduce stress, tension, anxiety and depression.
  • Boost self-image and self-esteem.
  • Improve sleep.
  • Make you feel more relaxed and rested.
  • Make you look fit and feel healthy.

How Do I Get Started?

Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor about:

  • Medication changes. New medications can greatly affect your response to exercise; your doctor can tell you if your normal exercise routine is still safe.
  • Heavy lifting. Make sure that lifting or pushing heavy objects and chores such as raking, shoveling, mowing, or scrubbing aren't off limits. Chores around the house can be tiring for some people; make sure you only do what you are able to do without getting tired.
  • Safe exercises. Get the doctor's approval before you lift weights, use a weight machine, jog, or swim.

What Type of Exercise Is Best?

Exercise can be divided into three basic types:

  • Stretching: slow lengthening of the muscles. Stretching the arms and legs before and after exercising helps prepare the muscles for activity and helps prevent injury and muscle strain. Regular stretching also increases your range of motion and flexibility.
  • Cardiovascular or aerobic: steady physical activity using large muscle groups. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body's ability to use oxygen. Aerobic exercise has the most benefits for your heart. Over time, aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure and improve your breathing.
  • Strengthening: repeated muscle contractions (tightening) until the muscle becomes tired. For people with heart failure, many strengthening exercises are not recommended. (See below)

What Are Examples of Aerobic Exercises?

Aerobic exercises include: walking, jogging, jumping rope, bicycling (stationary or outdoor), cross-country skiing, skating, rowing and low-impact aerobics or water aerobics.

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