Physical activity with a heart condition

Exercise with a heart condition Your heart, like any other muscle, needs physical activity to help keep it in good condition. This is true even if you have a heart condition, although you will need to follow the advice of your doctor or healthcare professional.

Is it ok for me to take part in physical activity?

If you already have coronary heart disease (if you get angina or have had a heart attack), physical activity can help protect your heart and help to reduce your risk of having further heart problems. It can also help you to recover from a heart attack or treatment such as heart surgery.

If you have another type of heart condition, regular physical activity can benefit your overall heart health.

It’s important to talk with your doctor, nurse, cardiac rehab team, physiotherapist or exercise specialist about the best way to increase your level of physical activity. This is especially important if you’re not used to doing physical activity.

Are there any activities I should avoid?

You might be advised to avoid strenuous activities such as:

  • carrying very heavy objects
  • doing heavy DIY or gardening, such as digging
  • competitive, vigorous sports such as squash.

Swimming is ok for many people with a heart condition, but for some people it can increase the strain on your heart. If you want to take up swimming, it’s very important that you check with your doctor or nurse first.

If your doctor ever gives you any new medicine, ask whether it affects what sort of activity you can do. This is especially the case if you have medicines such as beta-blockers, which slow down your heart rate.

Take a sensible approach to exercise

  • Make sure you warm up before you start your activity. Your warm-up should last at least 15 minutes and you should also cool down for at least 10 minutes at the end.
  • Build up your level of activity gradually – both the amount of time you spend doing it and how intense the activity is.
  • Avoid exercising after a large meal, or when the weather is very hot or very cold.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors when air pollution levels are high. Find out more about this in our air pollution advice.
  • Don’t exercise if you have a viral infection (for example a sore throat) or a high temperature.
  • Make sure your clothing and footwear are comfortable and fit well.
  • Don’t start any new activity without discussing it first with your doctor or nurse.
  • Take your GTN spray or tablets with you, if your doctor has given you this.

What to do if you get chest pain

If you have coronary heart disease and are taking GTN spray or tablets for your angina symptoms and you get chest pain or discomfort when exercising, this is what to do.

  1. Stop what you are doing.
  2. Sit down and rest.
  3. Use your GTN spray or tablets. Take the GTN as your doctor or nurse has told you. The pain should ease after a few minutes. If it doesn’t, take your GTN again.
  4. If the pain does not ease within a few minutes of taking the GTN the second time, call 999 immediately.
  5. If you’re not allergic to aspiration, chew an adult aspirin tablet (300mg) if there is one easily available. If not, just stay resting until the ambulance arrives.

Find out more

For more help and advice on physical activity that’s specific to your condition, order or download one of the following booklets:

You can also read more in our booklet on cardiac rehabilitation.