What is Heart disease?

The blood vessels that supply blood to the muscle of the heart can become partly or completely blocked. This can cause a heart attack or less obvious damage to the heart over time. Some of the possible problems caused by heart disease include:

  • Heart attack
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heart beat (arrhythmia)

What causes heart disease?

There are several causes for heart disease. Some of these cannot be changed such as:

  • Family history of heart disease
  • Age.

There are other causes of heart disease that can be changed:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure (link)
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood sugar (link)
  • Overweight or obesity (link)
  • Inactivity (link)

Can exercise help?

The short answer is YES! Regular activity can help improve all of these risk factors except family history, age, and smoking.

After a Heart Attack or  Heart Surgery

I have had a heart attack or heart surgery. Is it too late for me to make improvements in my health with exercise?

No. Exercise is beneficial for almost everyone, including you even if have had a heart attack or heart surgery. Check with your doctor first before increasing your activity or starting an exercise program. You may benefit from a formal, supervised exercise program (Cardiac Rehab) for the first few weeks or months.

Once your doctor says it is OK to exercise, go to Getting Started for more information about how to start your exercise program.

Heart Disease

I have not had a heart attack but I have heart disease. How can exercise help?

Once again, check with your doctor before starting exercise. Depending on your situation you may also benefit from a formal, supervised program or you may be OK to start on your own. Regular exercise can help improve some of the risk factors you may have such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc. A lack of activity is a very important risk factor for heart disease so simply starting regular exercise will remove this risk factor!

You are likely on medication to control your blood pressure or heart rate or rythym. If so, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Dizziness following exercise

Your blood pressure will likely be lower following an aerobic workout. This is a normal response to exercise but it may be low enough to cause dizziness, especially when you stand up from a chair or stand up after bending forward. You can manage this by:

  1. Always cool down at the end of your workout.
  2. Get up slowly and stand for a few moments before moving.
  3. Contact your doctor if this continues to be a problem. You may need a change in your medications.

Blood Sugar

If you have diabetes and have been inactive, increasing your activity will have an impact on your blood sugar control.


The information below lists the current recommendations for exercise for adults. You may not be able to do this much exercise when you start. That is OK. Do what you can and increase your activity gradually. Any amount of activity will be good for your health.

Aerobic Exercise

Exercise that increases your heart rate and breathing rate. At least 150 minutes per week of moderate or at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise. Exercise at least 3 days each week. Exercise can be done in one session each day or in multiple sessions of 10 minutes or more.

Exercising most days of the week takes advantage of the blood pressure and blood sugar lowering effects of exercise.

Aerobic or endurance exercise is one important part of your cardiovascular disease prevention strategy. Adding resistance and flexibility training will provide even more benefit.

Resistance Exercise

Resistance training can increase your strength, making your daily activities easier. Exercise for all upper and lower body major muscle groups 2 to 3 days each week. You can perform resistance training on consecutive days but not for the same muscles. Allow at least 48 hours rest between exercise sessions for each muscle group. Resistance training can be done with machines, free weights, elastic bands, or body weight resistance.

If you have had surgery, ask your doctor if weight training is safe for you and if it is safe when you can start.

Flexibility Exercise

This is most effective after your resistance or aerobic training sessions when your muscles are warm. Stretches should be done for all major muscle groups at least 2 to 3 days each week. Stretches should be held for at least 10 seconds for a total of 60 seconds for each muscle group.

Balance / Agility Exercise

Balance and agility is not only important for sports, it is also important for day to day activities. Activities such as climbing a ladder, standing on one foot to put your pants on, or getting in and out of a boat require considerable balance and agility. There are many ways to improve your balance skills such as standing on one foot, doing exercises on a wobble board or BOSU ball, Tai Chi, or yoga. Balance exercises should be done at least 2 to 3 days each week.