Exercise and Activity with Heart Failure
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Becoming More Active With Heart Failure

The key to becoming more active is to do it slowly and gradually. This is especially important if you have not been active on a regular basis, or if you have stopped being active because of illness.

To start, pick a simple aerobic activity that you like. An aerobic activity is one that involves moving the large muscles. A great way to become more active is to start doing activities such as gardening or walking, or resuming hobbies such as fishing or bowling that you may have stopped. Other examples include biking and swimming. It is a good idea to include walking in any activity plan that you develop. Walking is a good choice for many people, because it is easy to start a walking program, and walking is adaptable to many different circumstances.

If you are going to start a more vigorous exercise program to become more physically fit, or if you have more symptoms with activity, be sure to talk to your doctor or nurse. They may want you to do some type of exercise test before you start such a program. This can be as simple as walking under observation or in some cases a more formal exercise test.

You may want to start getting more active in a supervised setting under certain conditions:
  • If you or your doctor have any concerns about your abilities.
  • If you are really out of shape.
  • If you usually have symptoms like shortness of breath or tiredness even when you do mild activity or at rest.
To make it easier to continue with your activity, try to find a place where you can be active indoors such as a local gym or fitness center in addition to your outdoor activities. That way you will not have to skip being active when it is too hot or cold or when it is raining. Find out if the gym or fitness center has an indoor track, swimming pool, or stationary bike you can use. Or arrange to walk at a local mall. Walking outdoors is also great when the weather is pleasant.

The goal for most people with heart failure is to accumulate at least 30 minutes of activity per day for most days of the week. Note that you do not have to be active for 30 minutes in a row to benefit. For example, you can be active for three 10-minute blocks.

Whatever activity you choose, remember to start slowly. Move at a pace that is comfortable for you. You can start being active with as little as 5 minutes a day of walking. This may not seem like much, but it is a good start. Then gradually increase the amount of time you are active each day and the number of days each week. You will be surprised at how much you will be able to do after awhile.

One thing to remember is that the greater the intensity (the more vigorous) your activity, the shorter the time you need to be active to benefit from it. If you do a less intense activity, you can be active for a longer time. For example, walking at a brisk pace is a more intense activity, so you can do it for a shorter time. Gardening and housework are less intense activities, so you can do them for a longer time.

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