Exercise and Heart Conditions

There are several life-threatening diseases that can affect the function of the heart. The most common of those are:


Chronic Heart Failure (CHF) – occurs when the heart no longer effectively pumps blood to the lungs and the rest of the body. The most common causes of CHF are heart attacks, high blood pressure and diabetes.


Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) – affects the blood flow of the coronary arteries around the heart which supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. CHD is typically caused by fatty deposit build up in the vessels.

Why it’s important to exercise


Exercise can not only prevent development of cardiovascular disease, it can also help treat and alleviate symptoms of a number of cardiovascular conditions. Regular low to moderate-intensity exercise for people with CHD prevents the blood vessels narrowing further, prevents blood clotting, increases delivery of blood to the heart and helps maintain a normal heart rhythm.


These changes reduce the load on the heart at rest and during exercise, which helps to lesson some of the symptoms of CHD. Regular exercise helps to reduce the LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase the HDL (good cholesterol).

heart health and exercise

Things to remember:

  • Ensure suitable/prolonged warm up and cool down.
  • Carry angina medication if appropriate.
  • Be sure to consider medications side effects i.e. beta blockers, and make appropriate considerations for a pacemaker or internal defibrillator.
  • Adequate rest breaks between exercises will be required.


Types of exercise recommended

Patients with chronic heart failure are encouraged to exercise, however must be stable (consult professional prior exercise). You should aim to build up to a total of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity activity each week. Moderate intensity activity will make you feel warmer, breathe harder and make your heart beat faster than usual, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation without getting short of breath.

Aerobic exercise is important in both forms of CHF (systolic and distolic), the greater their ability to increase exercise and functional capacity, the higher the outcomes on survival. Aerobic exercise should begin at 5-10 minutes and gradually increase as symptoms/fatigue allows. Examples include walking, swimming, taking exercise classes or playing a sport, but physical activity also includes everyday things like gardening and climbing stairs.


Resistance training is extremely important as it will assist in increasing muscle size and strength, which is heavily decompensated in CHF patients. Resistance exercises should begin low in weight and high in repetitions. Examples include exercising with weights, working with resistance bands, heavy gardening or carrying shopping.





A thorough assessment should take place by your GP or specialist before commencing your exercise program.


Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP)

It’s recommended you consult an Accredited Exercise Physiologist before you commence exercise, as it is essential for exercise prescription to be individualised according to your unique needs, including functional capacity, physical limitations, exercise history and preferences.


Exercise can then be supervised by an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, or if you have CHD this can also be supervised by an Accredited Exercise Scientist.




Indoors in a climate controlled environment, such as a gym

It is best to exercise in a climate controlled environment so you avoid the extreme temperatures as exercising in a cold environment adds extra stress to the body that may increase the risks of morbidity and mortality for those with ischemic heart disease.


Heat and thermoregulation is also extremely important in CHF due to side effects associated with the medication.



Exercise in the AM

A study completed at Appalachian State University traced the sleep patterns and blood pressure of participants ages 40 to 60, who moderately exercised three times a week for 30 minutes. The volunteers performed morning, midday and evening workouts. Researchers found those who exercised in the morning experienced reduced blood pressure and slept longer, indicating that early-morning exercise has an effect on both blood pressure and sleep cycles.


Exercise in the AM also helps you to avoid the extreme heat in summer.