Heart Failure and Exercise

Exercise is an important part of controlling your heart failure. Regular physical activity helps you:

  • Feel less tired 
  • Feel less short of breath 
  • Sleep better 
  • Have more energy to do what you love 
  • Feel happier 
  • Have less difficulty with daily activities 
  • Feel more confident and in control

How to Get Started with Walking

Exercise should be fun, easy to do and become part of your everyday life. Walking is one of the best exercises for improving your health. Begin with short periods at a slow pace. Gradually increase the length of time before increasing your speed. Below are suggested options:

Option 1

  Duration of Walk
Week 1–2 5–10 minutes
Week 3–4 10–15 minutes
Week 5–6 15–20 minutes
Week 7–8 20–30 minutes

Option 2

If you are unable to walk five minutes without stopping, you would benefit from interval training. Alternate two to five minutes of walking with two to five minutes of rest. Repeat this pattern as many times as you are able to. Gradually decrease the amount of time you rest between intervals.

Your goal is to work up to 30-minute sessions daily, as you are able.

Exercise Guidelines

Activity Guidelines for Heart Failure

  • Light conversation should be possible while exercising.
  • Start/finish with a warm-up/cool-down (e.g., slower walking, seated or standing exercises).
  • Walk on level ground and avoid hills.
  • Wait at least one hour after a meal before exercising.
  • Exercise at a time of day when you feel rested—generally the morning rather than afternoon.
  • Avoid extreme heat or cold. Consider walking indoors in a mall, using a treadmill (with no incline) or riding a stationary bicycle (with little or no tension).
  • Count the liquids you drink during exercise as part of your daily fluid amount.
  • Avoid heavy lifting or pushing.
  • Avoid activities that involve positioning your arms above your head.
  • Avoid exercises that cause you to strain, grunt or hold your breath.
  • You should reach your resting state within 10 minutes of completing exercise. If not, reduce the time or intensity of exercise next time.

When to Stop an Activity

Always listen to your body. Stop the activity if you feel:

  • Short of breath while carrying on a conversation 
  • Weak or dizzy 
  • Sick to your stomach (nauseated) 
  • Your heart is pounding or racing 
  • Any discomfort

Stop and rest. Sit in a comfortable chair. If these symptoms persist, call 911.

Tips for Staying Active

  • Include a variety of activities that you enjoy.
  • Any amount of activity is better than none at all.
  • Stick with it until it becomes a habit.
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
  • Invite a friend to join you for a walk.
  • Schedule exercise into your day.
  • Set reasonable goals for yourself.
  • Keep an exercise journal to track your progress.

The Heart Institute’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program provides more specific exercise and lifestyle guidelines. There is no cost to participate and on-site or home-based options are available.
To get started, call 613-696-7068.

How to Balance Activity and Rest

If you are tired the day after an activity, you have probably tried to do too much. The following strategies can help you save up energy for activities you plan to do in the next day or week:

  • Prioritize: Consider which tasks can be done by someone else or removed from your schedule. Learn to recognize your personal limits.
  • Plan: Space out activities. Alternate easy activities with ones that are more demanding. Carry out activities that require the most energy at the time of day when you are at your best. Some people find they can do more if they rest for an hour during the day. This can be napping or simply quiet time (listening to music or reading). Consider it catch-up time for your heart.
  • Pace: Break down hard jobs into smaller tasks and take regular breaks. Learn to anticipate fatigue so that you can rest before you are tired.
  • Position: If you sit to perform a task, you will use 25% less energy than if youstand. Avoid unnecessary bending or overhead reaching.

Practical Tips

  • Organize your time so that you take fewer trips up and down stairs.
  • Double the recipe when you cook, and freeze some for another day.
  • Use lightweight pots and pans for cooking.
  • Consider equipment such as a shower chair, reacher and long-handled shoehorn.
  • Get extra rest the day before a celebration.
  • Get extra rest during times of emotional stress or illness.
  • Use a weekly schedule.

A Good Night’s Sleep

Getting enough sleep is important to your well-being. The following will help you sleep well at night: 

  • Daytime sleep should be limited to one hour so that it does not impact your sleep at night. 
  • Take your water pill before 5:00 p.m. to reduce your need to wake up to go to the bathroom. 
  • Avoid eating just before bed.

If you are not sleeping well, mention this to your doctor as this might require further investigation.

Sexual Activity

It is normal for people with heart failure (and their partners) to feel anxious about resuming sexual activity. Sexual activity is not dangerous to your heart. In general, if you can walk up two flights of stairs or walk briskly, you can continue your regular sexual activity. The following tips may be helpful:

  • Engage in sex when you are well-rested and relaxed.
  • Avoid sex after eating a big meal or drinking alcohol.
  • Have sex in a comfortable room that is not too hot or too cold.
  • Choose less stressful positions and techniques.