Exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, people with congestive heart failure may feel excessively tired and short of breath when performing certain activities. In such cases, a supervised exercise program can help strengthen your heart and improve heart failure symptoms and quality of life.
Before beginning an exercise program, your doctor might prescribe medicines to help manage your congestive heart failure (CHF). An exercise stress test may also be used to assess a patient's response to exercise and for establishing a safe and effective exercise program.
Walking and biking vigorously are common types of aerobic exercise for CHF patients. If you have not been physically active, you should begin your exercise slowly. You can use interval training as your first step, in which you perform exercise for a few minutes and then rest. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of exercise without undue strain on your body. You should gradually increase the time and pace of your exercise; eventually working up to 30 to 40 minutes, 3 to 5 times a week.
Your doctor may recommend a supervised exercise program for you, but here are some suggestions for a sample exercise program:
- Begin by walking or cycling on a stationary bike for 2 minutes and rest for a minute. Repeat this for 5 times until you reach 10 minutes of total exercise time.
- After about 2 weeks, gradually lengthen your exercise period for 4 minutes and rest for 2 minutes, until you reach 20 minutes of total exercise time.
- As you become fit, extend the total time of your exercise to 30 minutes, with 5 minute exercise intervals and 2 minute rest intervals.
- You can gradually increase your sessions to 40 minutes, eliminating the rest intervals.
- To make exercise more interesting, change your exercise program— instead of walking, ride a stationary bicycle.
Your doctor may also suggest other exercises such as respiratory muscle exercises and resistance training exercises to improve your muscle's strength and reduce fatigue.
Exercises, if done properly can be safe and effective for patients with congestive heart failure. Always consult your physician to see how your body is responding to exercise. Generally, during the first few weeks of exercise you may have mild leg swelling and fatigue. Important safety tips to remember include:
- Stop exercising and consult your doctor-if:
- You notice chest pain, swollen ankles, legs and abdomen, weight gain, and a rapid heartbeat at rest.
- You become dizzy or faint soon after you exercise right after taking medication. A few changes in the timing of exercise sessions often helps to relieve this problem.
- Also, do not exercise immediately after meals.
- A warm up including stretching and slow walking for 10 minutes will help increase the flow of blood to your muscles.
Always consult your physician before beginning an exercise program.
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