Should you exercise if you have heart disease?

People with heart disease may be worried that exercise will worsen their condition. However, staying physically active is necessary for heart health, says Elijah R. Behr, M.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare, located in London. The key is to exercise safely.

"Even in patients with quite damaged hearts that are causing heart failure, exercise can be important for improving quality of life," Dr. Behr says. However, he cautions, "this has to be within reason and care should be taken to avoid exacerbating the underlying condition."

How do you exercise safely with a heart condition?

Your health care provider can help you understand your heart condition. Together, you can develop a safe exercise program that works with your specific condition.

"For example, if someone has coronary artery disease, meaning furring, or blockage, of the arteries due to cholesterol, then overexercising may cause chest pain and increase the risk from the underlying condition," Dr. Behr says. "On the other hand, patients with conditions that are not worsened by exercise, such as some heart rhythm problems, may exercise as much as they wish."

What types of exercises are safe? Can you do cardio?

"Patients can undertake cardiovascular exercise and indeed this can be very good for their well-being and prognosis," Dr. Behr says. "However, the intensity and period of the exercise must be tailored to their condition."

As a general rule, you shouldn't perform any exercise that aggravates your condition. Talk to your health care provider before undertaking any high-intensity activity, such as competitive or endurance sports.

How can you reduce the risk of a heart attack? What are the warning signs?

Depending on your condition, avoiding very intense exercise can be key to reducing your risk while reaping the most benefits from exercise, Dr. Behr says.

If you have chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations or dizziness during exercise, stop exercising immediately and seek medical help, he advises.