Activity and exercise
Any mild physical activity is beneficial for the majority of people with heart failure. Exercise can help you feel better in general.
Activity may improve the functioning of your heart, by reducing the workload and enabling it to beat more efficiently. This will improve your symptoms.
Before starting an exercise programme, or if you want to increase or change the type of exercise you do, talk to your doctor or nurse to make sure you are not putting too much strain on your heart too quickly. They will also be able to advise you which activities to avoid. You can also contact your local cardiac rehabilitation centre (if available) and ask if they offer any programmes for low-intensity training.
Choose an activity that you enjoy, as you will be more likely to do it regularly. Exercising with a friend also helps, as you will be able to encourage each other. It’s important to understand what you can do, if you didn’t go jogging before you had heart failure, you probably won’t be able to now you have heart failure. But if you like walking or swimming, try one of these.
Always warm up and cool down with a few stretches before you begin exercising – a qualified instructor will be able to show you how to do this safely. If it is cold or windy outside, you should try to warm up before leaving the house. Try walking around for a couple of minutes as this will reduce the shock to your body when you go outside.
Walking is a good activity to start with. Try to walk every day by doing activities such as collecting the newspaper, or getting off the bus one stop earlier. If you already walk and consider yourself physically active, try cycling or swimming. Start slowly and gradually increase the distance or intensity of the activity as your strength/fitness improves.
A good rule of thumb is that you should still be able to talk while you are exercising. If you can’t talk, you are probably overdoing it. Stop exercising at once if you experience shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, nausea or a cold sweat. If the symptoms persist, contact your doctor or nurse.
Try not to exercise straight after a large meal, or when you haven’t eaten for a long time. Plan to exercise 1-2 hours after a light meal.
Many people with heart failure worry that they will no longer be able to interact with their grandchildren by picking them up. Listen to the signals your body sends you. Activities that require holding your breath, bearing down or sudden bursts of energy are best avoided. If your grandchildren are too big for you to comfortably carry, it may be more sensible for you to sit with them on your lap.