Exercise and Activity with Heart Failure
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Warming Up and Cooling Down

It is important to spend a few minutes warming up and cooling down before and after each activity session to avoid injuring yourself and stressing your heart. Warming up helps your body and your heart adjust to the increased demands of activity. It also stretches tendons and muscles to avoid cramping. Cooling down allows your heart rate, blood pressure, and other body functions to return to their usual resting levels and brings down your adrenaline level gradually. Most of the problems that people have related to activity occur when they stop the activity suddenly and do not take the time to cool down slowly and correctly.

Warming Up

Spend 5 minutes stretching before you begin an activity or exercise program. Ask your doctor or nurse to suggest specific stretching exercises. When stretching, only do as much as is comfortable for you. Stretching should not be painful. After stretching, slowly increase your rate of activity or exercise during the first few minutes of your routine until you are at your usual level. If at first all you can do is stretch, that is fine and a great way to begin becoming more active.

Another great way to warm up is to walk slowly for 5 minutes.

Cooling Down

The best way to cool down is to slowly decrease the intensity of the activity or exercise you are doing. For example, if you are walking, walk more and more slowly for the last few minutes of your exercise session. Never stop exercising suddenly and just sit, lie down, or stand still. It can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. End your activity program by doing about 5 minutes of stretching exercises.

Strength Training or Muscle Building

People used to think that only young and healthy athletes did strength training to build up their muscles. But we now know that everyone should stay strong. If you build your muscles, you may have more strength to do your usual activities. For example, you will be able to brush or comb your hair or do other activities that require you to hold your arms over your head more easily.

A safe way for people with heart failure to build up their arm muscles is to learn stretching exercises using the large elastic bands that are commercially available. Ask your doctor or nurse about where to get these and how to use them.

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