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Being active after your heart attack

Alternate Names

Heart attack - activity

When You Were in the Hospital

You had a heart attack and were in the hospital. You may have had angioplasty and a stent placed in an artery to open a blocked artery in your heart.

What to Expect at Home

While you were in the hospital, you should have learned:

Your doctor may recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program to you. This program will help you learn what foods to eat and exercises to do to stay healthy. Eating well and exercising will help you start feeling healthy again.

Getting Started with Your Exercise

Before you start to exercise, your doctor may have you do an exercise test. You should get exercise recommendations and an exercise plan. This may happen before you leave the hospital or soon afterward. Do not change your exercise plan before talking with your health care provider. The amount and intensity of your activity will depend on how active you were before the heart attack and how severe your heart attack was.

Take it easy at first:

  • Walking is the best activity when you start exercising.
  • Walk on flat ground for a few weeks at first.
  • You can try bike riding after a few weeks. Walk your bike up any hills, or ride a stationary bike in an easy gear.
  • If it is windy, walk or bike with the breeze behind you.
  • Do not walk outside if it is very cold or very hot. Go to a shopping mall and do your walking inside.

Slowly increase how long you exercise at any one time. If you are up to it, repeat the activity 2 or 3 times during the day. You may want to try this very easy exercise schedule (but ask your doctor first):

  • Week 1: about 5 minutes at a time
  • Week 2: about 10 minutes at a time
  • Week 3: about 15 minutes at a time
  • Week 4: about 20 minutes at a time
  • Week 5: about 25 minutes at a time
  • Week 6: about 30 minutes at a time

After 6 weeks, you may be able to start swimming, but stay out of very cold or very hot water. You can also begin playing golf. Start easily with just hitting balls. Add to your golfing slowly, playing just a few holes at a time. Avoid golfing in very hot or cold weather.

Household Activities

You can do some things around the house to stay active, but always ask your provider first. Avoid a lot of activity on days that are very hot or cold. Some people will be able to do more after a heart attack. Others may have to start more slowly. Increase your activity level gradually by following these steps.

You may be able to cook light meals by the end of your first week. You can wash dishes or set the table if you feel up to it.

By the end of the second week you may start doing very light housework, such as making your bed. Go slowly.

After 4 weeks, you may be able to:

  • Iron -- start with only 5 or 10 minutes at a time
  • Shop, but do not carry heavy bags or walk too far
  • Do short periods of light yard work

By 6 weeks, your doctor may allow you to do more activities, such as heavier housework and exercise, but be careful.

  • Try not to lift or carry anything that is heavy, such as a vacuum cleaner or pail of water.
  • If any activities cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or any of the symptoms you had before or during your heart attack, stop doing them right away. Tell your health care provider.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider if you feel:

  • Pain, pressure, tightness, or heaviness in the chest, arm, neck, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Gas pains or indigestion
  • Numbness in your arms
  • Sweaty, or if you lose color
  • Light-headed

Also call if you have angina and it:

  • Becomes stronger
  • Occurs more often
  • Lasts longer
  • Occurs when you are not active
  • Does not get better when you take your medicine 

These changes may mean your heart disease is getting worse.

References

Anderson JL, Adams CD, Antman EM, Bridges CR, Califf RM, Casey DE Jr, et al. ACC/AHA 2007 guidelines for the management of patients with unstable angina/non-ST-Elevation myocardial infarction: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Revise the 2002 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Unstable Angina/Non-ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) developed in collaboration with the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons endorsed by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation and the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2007;50:e1-e157.

Antman EM, Hand M, Armstrong PW, Bates ER, Green LA, Halasyamani LK, Hochman JS, et al. 2007 Focused Update of the ACC/AHA 2004 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines: developed in collaboration with the Canadian Cardiovascular Society endorsed by the American Academy of Family Physicians: 2007 Writing Group to Review New Evidence and Update the ACC/AHA 2004 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction, Writing on Behalf of the 2004 Writing Committee. Circulation. 2008;117:296-329.

Giugliano RP, Cannon CP, Braunwald E. Non-ST elevation myocardial infarction. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, et al, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 56.

Mega JL, Morrow DA. ST-Elevation myocardial infarction: management. In Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, et al, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 52.

Smith SC Jr, Benjamin EJ, Bonow RO, Braun LT, Creager MA, Franklin BA, et al. AHA/ACCF secondary prevention and risk reduction therapy for patients with coronary and other atherosclerotic vascular disease: 2011 update: a guideline from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology Foundation endorsed by the World Heart Federation and the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;58:2432-46.

Thompson PD. Exercise-based, comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, et al, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 47.


Review Date: 8/12/2014
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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