Heart failure is a serious condition that requires medical care. It affects about 5.7 million people in the United States. It is the most common reason for hospitalization for people over age 65.
Having heart failure can make it difficult to do routine activities, like walking up stairs. When it worsens, even simple tasks like getting dressed can cause shortness of breath. For some people, becoming easily winded during exertion is one of the first symptoms of heart failure.
What causes heart failure?
Heart failure is often caused by coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease happens when the arteries that bring blood to the heart become narrow and hardened. Other causes of heart failure include high blood pressure, diabetes, problems with the valves of the heart or injury to the heart muscle itself.
Whatever the cause, in heart failure the heart cannot fill with enough blood or pump hard enough — or both. That makes the heart unable to adequately supply oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Your lungs, muscles and other organs need that oxygen to function properly.
Isn't exercise risky?
People who are diagnosed with heart failure may wonder if exercise is safe for them. Some people with heart failure are afraid of having a heart attack if they exercise. But having heart failure does not mean you have to avoid exercise. Exercise is important for all people, even those with heart failure. In fact, for adults who have a chronic condition, physical activity has been found to be safe if done within the limits of their ability. Some general benefits of exercise include:
- Reducing your risk of further heart problems, including heart attack
- Controlling your weight
- Lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes
- Lowering your risk for high blood pressure
- Reducing your risk of some cancers
- Reducing depression
- Improving muscular fitness
- Helping you keep up daily activities
- Preventing falls
Finding the right exercise
If you have heart failure, it's very important that you work with your doctor for advice on an exercise program that's right for you. He or she may recommend an exercise program that is tailored to your needs.
Only a few lifestyle choices have as big an impact on your health as staying active. Heart failure doesn't have to stop you in your tracks. And when you stay physically active, you may reduce stress. You may also improve your ability to function in day-to-day activities and stay independent. Being active can help you live longer — so talk to your doctor and get moving!
Created on 02/24/2004
Updated on 01/28/2013
- National Institutes of Health SeniorHealth. Heart failure: symptoms and diagnosis.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Your guide to physical activity and your heart.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical activity and health.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is cardiac rehabilitation?