Knowledge Base

Returning to exercise after Heart Attack

Here I look at when you can resume training

It’s been a week since I had the heart scare. Yes my heart attack was classed as mild by the professionals but last week I felt like I had been hit by a bus and I’ve lacked any energy, but as the week has progressed I’ve started to slowly improve. I managed to get out to watch football Saturday and yesterday took a very slow walk with Sarah around the supermarket.

As my attack was mild or put in medical terms, non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI) I’ve not required any procedures except blood-thinning medicine, the cardiac rehabilitation nurse gave me advice on when you I could resume different types of exercise or activity.

Approximately 10 days after a heart attack most people will be ready to start gentle physical activity again, for me I was told I would be OK to resume gentle running but I had to be very careful and if needs be take longer before resuming. The key with exercise after a heart attack is to start slowly, do something every day and gradually build up your level of activity. So having nothing better to do I have researched what the experts recommend and then will apply that to my own level of general fitness, making sure both Jo and Sarah are keeping me firmly under control.

For most people doing simple home exercises is a good idea to begin with and allows you to be in complete control. Walking is also easy to fit in and can be built up gradually. Use how you feel to gauge how well you are coping and move things on when you can manage your set tasks easily.

  • Avoid activity within 2 hours of a bath or a heavy meal.
  • Don’t do physical activity if you are tired at the end of the day. Wait until the morning or choose the time of day you feel at your most refreshed and relaxed.
  • Take your time.

Simple stretching and home exercises are a good idea until your cardiac rehabilitation comes in to play 4 – 6 weeks after your heart attack,

Keep a daily diary

It can be very helpful to keep a daily diary of your home exercises and activities. This will allow you and your doctor / nurse to see your progress. It also prevents you from being tempted to do too much, too soon, and overdoing it.

Get into the habit of making a note of what you have done that day. It may also surprise you to realise how well you are progressing.


  • Once you have got used to doing some simple movements you can begin going for short walks – usually around the 10th day after your heart attack. You must take it slowly and plan carefully.
  • On your first day out, a walk of 50 – 100 metres is enough. If this feels okay then the next day you can go a little further. Gradually you will be able to do a little more and be more energetic.
  • Walk where there are other people around, or near a bus route, in case you get tired. If you over do it one day you will be too tired to do anything the next day so remember to pace yourself. Short walks daily are better for you than intense bursts of effort.
  • What activity you are able / encouraged to do depends on your circumstances, your medical history, age and previous activity levels. Make sure you have your doctor’s permission before you start.

Pace yourself

When you start walking you must stop if you feel chest pains or become too breathless to talk. Rest for a few minutes and then start again if you feel better but go more slowly.

Everyone progresses at different rates and everyone has bad days. It all depends on you how much you feel you can do: pace yourself to the rate of your body’s recovery. This is when its important to think about the RPE scale(the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale), where you judge how hard you’re working, based on factors such as how heavy your breathing is and how easy it is to talk.

This helps you to exercise at the right level. It’s fine to be a little bit short of breath, but not so breathless you can’t talk. Chest tightness, dizziness, palpitations and shortness of breath are warning signs. If you experience these, stop and seek medical advice.

What to avoid at the early stage

All gentle exercise and activity will be good for you eventually, but there are a few particular actions, which are still risky for you to try, because they put a sudden and unusual strain on your heart.

  • Lifting or pushing heavy weights such as a fully loaded wheelbarrow
  • Straining with all your strength as in pushing a car
  • Exercising until you are too breathless to talk
  • Making short, heavy, sharp efforts like digging or shoveling snow

Watch for Cardiac Warning Signs

To be safe with exercise after a heart attack, stop physical activity and call your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms that came on during your heart attack, or if you feel:

  • Chest pain, pressure, tightness or heaviness.
  • Pain or pressure in your arm, neck or jaw.
  • Extreme shortness of breath.
  • Uneven or very fast heartbeat.
  • Lightheaded.
  • Indigestion or gas.
  • Perspiration and a loss of color.
  • Numbness in your arms.
  • Extreme fatigue after exercise.

It is important to keep track of your body while implementing the best exercise for heart health into your daily routine. If you have chest discomfort (angina), stop exercising and call your doctor if your symptoms become worse, occur more often, last longer than usual, begin happening when you’re not exercising or don’t go away after taking your medication. It may mean your heart disease is getting out of hand.

Without any cardiac complications, stay active with regular exercise after heart attack. Each person is different I was told I should be ok to resume my normal routine within 6-8 weeks if not sooner. However for me it will be a case of making sure not to do too much too soon. (Sarah wouldn’t allow it)

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