Heart Failure – Regular Exercise and Physical Activity

It’s important to lead an active lifestyle and engage in regular physical activity. Consult your doctor to find a suitable workout to keep fit and healthy.

Regular physical activity not only helps you to be able to work, but it also helps you maintain independence and confidence. Ask your doctor and therapist for the kind of exercise(s) that you can do safely.

The Importance of Physical Activity

The lack of exercise or physical activity causes symptoms of heart failure such as breathlessness on exertion and muscle tiredness. This may lead to difficulty with activities of daily living such as walking, climbing stairs, bathing and cleaning.

As your physical activity level goes down, the blood circulation to the muscles in your limbs decreases further. This results in even more breathlessness and tiredness of the muscles when you carry out any physical activity.

Physical activity can reverse this process and improve breathlessness and muscle strength.

Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activity

  • Helps your heart to pump blood better
  • Strengthens your heart, muscles and bones
  • Slows down the deterioration of heart failure and re-admission to hospital
  • Reduces risk of heart attack
  • Helps control high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes
  • Decreases bodyweight if you are overweight
  • Reduces breathlessness and gives you more stamina to carry out daily tasks, e.g., walking indoors/outdoors, housework, outdoor activities, physical activities at work and leisure
  • With all the above benefits, your medical bills can also be trimmed

Related: How Your Step Count Is Important To Your Health

General Exercise or Physical Activity Guidelines


It is recommended that you exercise regularly, i.e., about three to five times a week.


Exercise to reach pulse rates of 20 beats above your resting pulse rate or at a level where you are slightly breathless yet are still able to continue the physical activity.


You may start with 5 to 10 minutes and gradually work up to 30 minutes per session.


The best types of activities are those that use large muscle groups. Some examples are walking, cycling, step-ups, water exercise, and line dancing, among others. If you get breathless easily, you can start with some simple arm and leg exercises on the bed or chair, e.g., leg/arm circles, knee raises, rolling on the bed, sitting to standing, etc.


  • Do not exercise or increase your physical activity when you feel breathless at rest, feel more breathless than usual, feel very tired, have chest pain or dizziness, have a fever or infection.
  • Avoid overexertion. Signs of overexertion (i.e., being overly tired) include shortness of breath that prevents you from completing a sentence, dizziness, chest pain, irregular heartbeats, extreme fatigue, severe sweating, nausea and vomiting.
  • Get help from your physiotherapist about your exercise training. Your physiotherapist will adjust the training intensity according to your individual needs. You can also find out about cardiac rehabilitation, supervised exercise training and educational programmes from your case/care manager, physiotherapist and/or doctor.

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