Exercise after heart attack? - British Heart Fou...

British Heart Foundation

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Exercise after heart attack?

Walker100 profile image
53 Replies

I'm a fairly active 46 year old guy, have done 100km walks and other events in the past. Had a heart attack last week due to blocked artery. Got expert attention (huge thanks to Barts, London) and a stent inserted as well as a bag full of drugs to take home. I think the biggest cause was smoking (stopped that now) and a less than ideal diet which is in the process of changing. Am I being realistic in expecting to get back to the same level of activity? My main concern would be the first time I get out off breath, can feel the heart pounding and am in the middle of nowhere. How did others cope with this?

53 Replies
Tinodog profile image


Interestingly I had heart attack at the beginning of June and have now got a stent

I was reasonably active and did 50k wAlk last year. Ironically for the BHF

My HA came out if the blue when I was on the golf course thinking it was acid indegestion

I was referred to the local heart rehab and attended the course 6 weeks after the event. It had been brilliant and it consists of 1 hour of circuit training and one hour of theory each week

It has certainly built up my confidence in how far you can push yourself and is monitored by experts

You are also with people who have been through the same experience.

I too was a smoker and have not smoked since the event. My EF is Low and I have to accept that I just need to keep doing all the good things and to moderate the bad which will maintain the condition. The heart is a muscle and needs exercise. I started with 15 minute walks and gradually built up

Last week I walked -and played 9 holes of golf which was a major milestone

Contact your local hospitals rehab team who will provide great advice

And good luck


Tinodog profile image
Tinodog in reply to Tinodog

I am 54 btw

seasider18 profile image
seasider18 in reply to Tinodog

An hour of theory seems a bit much, When I went it was half an hour and I complained it was really more of a blame game.

Tinodog profile image
Tinodog in reply to seasider18

It was probably 40 minutes plus a cup of tea🙂

Tinodog profile image
Tinodog in reply to Tinodog

The subjects ranged from

Understanding the heart with models and what we had done


Exercising properly and the benefits

Certainly no blame game just really informative for individuals going through a life changing experience and being able to share experiences

seasider18 profile image
seasider18 in reply to Tinodog

Tea ! We did not get tea.

I objected to the weekly blame game as my problem had not been a lifestyle one.

SpiritoftheFloyd profile image

Hi Walker100

I had a heart attack last December which included a cardiac arrest.

Like you a smoker (stopped nearly 250 days now) and not the best diet, I was also a bit overweight. Since changed my diet and lost 40 lbs, now down to a healthy 10st.

After my heart attack I was very nervous about what I could do and not do. I was referred to Cardio Rehab at a local health centre/community hospital, where I did 12 weeks in the gym twice a week. They establish what you can do to start off, then monitor you and week by week increase the exercise. It's a really great program, as well as building you back up physically it also gets you back in a good place mentally.

Take it easy for a while and when you get the invite to go to rehab jump at it.

Gail1967 profile image

I think it’s realistic to that you will get back to normal activity levels- I too have done 100k walks and for 1st few months after heart attack and bypass I would have said no- 4 months down line I can feel already I will get back to doing the 100k’s. It may take a little while but there is no reason why not!!

NorthantsSteve profile image

Hi Walker100. I was 55. Pretty active, not overweight etc etc when I had my HA and stent nearly 3 years ago. Damage to heart was quite minor and my EF was 60%. The message from cardio rehab (go if you get the chance as it’s really good) was that we could get back to an appropriate level. Clearly some heart muscle (in my case) has died but it’s not noticeable at my level of exercise. And I gave up any hope of being a professional athlete decades ago! Main problem is the meds - as they can slow you down. It they can be tweaked.

As to worrying about being stranded I’ve downloaded the what3words app so I can let people know exactly where I am if I ever get into difficulty.

So, I’m nearly 3 years on and have never felt better or fitter. I’m sure you’ll be the same, too. Good luck.

Hi Walker100.

Again, early 50s, smoker, poor diet & not enough exercise (kept trying to find time but self employment kept providing excuses!). Heart attack out of the blue last November and one stent. Luckily minimal damage and an EF of "over 50%" (they didn't seem interested in an exact figure)

Shameful admission, I haven't managed to stop the smoking - please no-one shout at me!

Anyway, starting with the rehab sessions (fairly informal round here which I like) I basically pushed as hard as I was comfortable with and have continued to push.

I'm now off the beta blockers (what a difference that made!) because my resting HR is down around 52 and hoping to stop the other blood pressure ones at some point seeing as my BP is around 102/60 most mornings, but that might take some negotiation involving tobacco with the doc :D

In terms of exercise, my last week or so has consisted of:

11.7k coastal walk (rough terrain) on the Bank Holiday Sunday in 2 hrs 16 (avg heart rate 120, peak 140) followed by a 20 minute gentle step workout in the evening to stretch off a bit (avg HR 99, peak 120),

30 minute step workout on the Monday (avg 129, peak 154),

Rest Tues & Wed,

65 minute, 740 calorie, gym session on Thurs (avg 135, peak 163),

Rest Fri

5.5k walk / run on Sat (avg 133, peak 157)

3.8k walk on the sand dunes yesterday (avg 115, peak 144)

78 minute, 850 calorie, gym session this afternoon (avg 131, peak 158) and I'm feeling annoyed that it's raining too hard to go for an evening walk

Don't think that's too shabby for a still overweight (but no longer obese!) 52 year old smoker - even without the HA and stent

So, yes, there's no real reason why you shouldn't get back out there. Just build it up and let your confidence grow over time.

Incidentally, I've also accidentally stress tested myself doing star jumps on a bench to a 183bpm, symptom free, maximum which, although I'd STRONGLY recommend NOT trying, did make me feel a lot more confident when working hard in the 140 - 160 range!

Lezzers profile image
Lezzers in reply to Thatwasunexpected

Unless you've been a smoker no-one can understand how difficult it is to give it up, even when you know how bad it is for you. I've seen nurses working in intensive care units rush out the door at the end of their shift so that can have cigarette. Well done with the exercise, very impressive and the weight loss, a very small silent admonishment for smoking 🚬 (I'm an ex smoker, you know what we're like!) ☺

Thatwasunexpected profile image
Thatwasunexpected in reply to Lezzers

Thank you :) It's not helped by having a partner who smokes - that is NOT an excuse for my own lack of willpower but it would certainly be easier if we could give up together.

As for the exercise, the army taught me that just because it hurts (obviously excluding chest pains, broken bones etc!) is not a reason to stop because an awful lot of "I can't do this" is in your mind.

A good mix of really pushing (mostly the gym work) and longer, easier, stuff like walking works wonders surprisingly quickly. To be honest, a lot of times, I only end the walks because it's not fair to leave Sian in the house on her own for hours at a time outside work hours - fitness has got to the point where I could pretty well just keep going.

All I need now is to lose this last 20kg and I might even be running again!

Lezzers profile image
Lezzers in reply to Thatwasunexpected

Good for you. Kevin wasn't really a smoker when he has his HA maybe 8 cigs a week, so not having another was never an issue with him. After his HA I spent the next 4/5 years either freezing in the garden or with my head stuck out of a window 😂 having me cig!! It was only when I caught a virus and struggled to breath that I have up....I watched my dad struggle to breath for the last 3 years of his life and I thought that's not for me, that was about 15 years ago, I still forget I don't smoke and look for a ciggy, though not very often. Good luck with the extra 20k, good support goes far. Though when I've asked Kevin to support me when I'm dieting and he tries to stop me eating a bar of chocolate, murder comes to mind! 😂

cowparsley profile image
cowparsley in reply to Lezzers

Love you Lezzers.You are so very human if you know what I mean!!

Lezzers profile image
Lezzers in reply to cowparsley

Aw shucks, thank you. I'm not usually human in the morning without my 3 layers of makeup making it bearable to look in the mirror 😂

cowparsley profile image
cowparsley in reply to Thatwasunexpected

Sympathize re smoking.Struggled for many years trying to give up then I reached a crisis,either had to give up smoking or coastal path walking.Ex smokers told me one day it will just happen and it did.All the very best.

Lezzers profile image
Lezzers in reply to cowparsley

I completely agree with that, I actually found giving up really easy because it was what I really wanted and that was after many years of trying, which sometimes only lasted an hr!!! No willpower!

SpiritoftheFloyd profile image
SpiritoftheFloyd in reply to Lezzers

Ex-smoker here!

It's been 250 days since my heart attack/stopped smoking. Was smoking 30 Marlboro a day - if I was still smoking I'd have spent £4,142.50 during the last 250 days!

Been trying to give up for years, medical emergency finally got me to stop!

Lezzers profile image
Lezzers in reply to SpiritoftheFloyd

A lot of money, did you put your cigs money in a jar or piggy bank?

SpiritoftheFloyd profile image
SpiritoftheFloyd in reply to Lezzers


Having lost 40 lbs in weight, none of my clothes fitted me, so they've all gone to the BHF shop in Birkenhead to find a new home, and I've replaced my whole wardrobe.

Plus bought a treadmill and an exercise bike, decorated 2 bedrooms, new carpets etc. So no better off yet, but at least I've got something to show for it, rather than a hacking cough!

banana1982 profile image

My Husband (41) had a STEMI in April 3 stents fitted, also a smoker but not smoked since he walked into the minor injuries unit. He has been doing park run for 2 months and got his PB this week with 33 minutes, however two minutes on a trampoline, crouching down or lifting he finds incredibly difficult and leaves him breathless.

He has LVSD, CAD and was borderline HF whilst in hospital so not sure if he has this or not??

So yes exercise limits can be built up but you may have to pick different exercises to meet your needs

Thatwasunexpected profile image
Thatwasunexpected in reply to banana1982

One thing I've discovered over the past year is that the type of exercise can make a huge difference to your heart's response - even to the point of being quite scary at times!

I'd been going to the gym for about 6 months, rarely getting my HR over 150 and never managing over 160 no matter what I did / how hard I worked.

Then I added assisted chin-ups to my routine. That was no problem until I reduced the assistance after a couple of weeks (so i was actually lifting my "ideal" weight ready for when i get there). HR went shooting up to 176 by the end of the set.

Hasn't done it again on the chins, but the same happened with star jumps a few weeks later - 183 this time! Seems to be each time a new set of muscles / movement is recruited things can go a little haywire until your system gets used to it!

Your husband may well be experiencing similar if he's been doing a lot of running / walking then does something different like jumping / lifting and so on. If it concerns him, he might try adding those movements in a gentle form (light lifting, slow jumping & so on) to see how he adapts.

banana1982 profile image
banana1982 in reply to Thatwasunexpected

The type of breathlessness he gets I find very bizarre, he also does a fitness DVD in the mornings which gives him different exercises including the bouncing to a degree. He should be seeing his cardiologist soon so we can address it then, but at the back of my mind I'm concerned that it's heart failure causing it, but it's only been 5 months and even the Dr said most men wouldn't have survived the HA so we have much to be grateful for.

Thatwasunexpected profile image
Thatwasunexpected in reply to banana1982

With a STEMI, 3 stents, and questions over heart failure he's got a LOT of healing to do, so 5 months is still very early days!

The fact he's managed Park Run in 33 minutes suggests he's well on the right track - that's 9kph pace which, even with what I'm doing (see list above) and healthy EF of 50%+, I struggle to keep up for more than 1k or so!

Has he thought of getting a chest strap monitor for while he's exercising? I've been a huge fan of them for many, many years because the engineer in me just loves hard figures - partly as motivation and partly as reassurance.

With the assorted meds it's not really sensible to try and workout by zones but it doesn't take too long to work out what you "expect" from your heart under different efforts and seeing the response improve (ie: lower rates at similar workloads or higher workloads to reach the same rate) can be a really big motivator because it gives hard evidence that your efficiency is improving.

It also means you can monitor improvements without pushing for a new PB every time. Take a known route or routine and a known, fairly easy, pace and see how your heart rate drops over time doing the same run / walk / routine.

You also get to see if something unexpected is happening (like the sudden peaks I mentioned above) which can be a hint to back off (I hadn't "felt" it was particularly fast those times).

banana1982 profile image
banana1982 in reply to Thatwasunexpected

Thank you, he is determined to make himself as fit as possible but he does find it difficult knowing he has limits. He does wear a chest strap and heart monitor and it is set to beep when he gets to his maximum heart rate he does on occasion go above this but not to excess.

He's got me doing park run too and without fail I'm the last across the line...

Tinodog profile image

Just a quick question to the group

My EF is around 35% and I’m led to believe is unlikely to improve

Any feedback good

Lezzers profile image
Lezzers in reply to Tinodog

That's not necessarily true. The correct meds, healthy diet and exercise can increase your EF. I belong to the Pumping Marvellous HF charity support group, there are loads of people there who's EF has been as low as 15 and are now in the 30's/40', others now have a normal EF reading, it doesn't mean they no longer have HF, it means the meds, diet, etc is working for them. Equally, there are others in the group who've not improved or have deteriorated. However, don't get hung up on your EF, it's just a number, cardiologists are more interested in how you're feeling. Many people have a low EF but have very few symptoms and others have a high EF but are very symptomatic. I highly recommend having at look at the website and maybe joining their closed Facebook group, for advice, support etc.

Tinodog profile image
Tinodog in reply to Lezzers

Thanks lezzers

Should have started s different thread

I feel really good as you mentioned and still a newbie on the site

I will look at site

Yasyass profile image
Yasyass in reply to Tinodog

Why do u think it can’t improve

Yasyass profile image
Yasyass in reply to Tinodog

I too have 35ef and impressions from my go and cardiologists make me believe there is nothing to do or will be improvements

Brandibell profile image
Brandibell in reply to Tinodog

Hi, my EF is 35% also. I have moderate LVSD and I am hoping when I have had my MRI in 15 days and counting🙏 I will know more as to why it is below the standard and hopefully find a way to improve it.🤞..

As Lezzer says some will improve some won't it all depends on what is going on within the heart /our lifestyles and our medication which are all very individual to ourselves. I agree with the pumping marvellous group I am also a member, their are some lovely people on there so you can get double support.

For those that don't have much in the way of support(me included) such as very little family, or friends that are too wrapped up in their own lives, it is a blessing such as this one.x

Walker100 profile image

Thanks everyone for all the helpful and inspiring responses. Am enrolled in Cardio rehab but haven't started yet.

ken-b profile image

+1 for cardiac rehab, great for the exercises advice and reassurance, and new people in the same boat. 18 months on I still attend the gym at the cardiac rehab centre twice a week. The initial period is trying, especially if you were active before but this builds up quite quickly, maybe use this period for any lifestyle adjustments.

Neekey profile image

Lifestyle change forget the word diet. You are what you eat, watch the saturated fats, inc palm oil, no need to be obsessed with what's is good and bad just read up on net, plenty of excellent info. If like me you like chocolate, lidl do 85% dark which is lovely, just a small piece a day, everything in moderation. Keep off pastry and processed foods as much as possible. Cardiac gym is a lifeline for so many people, If you get your fitness back up, get good cardio workouts, think about what you eat, take your meds and always get a printout of your yearly blood results, there is no reason you can't live a healthy life. Beleive me, it works.

Marg2017 profile image

I suffered a cardiac arrest in July 2017 at home and was very luckily resuscitated by my husband until the ambulance crews arrived. I was a smoker, overweight & kept finding excuses not to exercise.

I have not smoked since the heart attack, I came out of hospital and threw it all out, it has been hard but I do not want to put my loved ones through that experience again. I am slowly loosing weight, have started yoga and running again and am taking part in my first 10k run this Sunday.

It is a slow process but you will get there, it takes time to build up your confidence again after a heart attack but you will be able to get back to your level of walking. Take care.

PeterJemmett profile image

I was fairly inactive except the occasional long walk before my heart attack, this blog tracks my progress since then ... peterjemmett.blogspot.com/

mandm65 profile image

Good morning and welcome to the forum, a place where you wouldn’t want to be.

Once again it saddened me to see fellow runner ended up here. I believe you have been given some wonderful advice so no point in repeating that, but yeah do use your rehab sessions as confidence builder. You can ask the rehab nurse to customise the session for you so you make most out of the sessions.

In terms of what can be achieved, well that’s depend on many parameters (another discussion) but it really is down to individuals to work out what works for them and that include your medics team.

In terms of what is possible after HA, well people have gone on to achieve unthinkable but again that’s down to those individual and we are not expected to repeat that to overcome our challenges.

I have documented how I overcome my challenge, feel free to take a look when you have a moment or two.

All the best with your recovery.


Khonkaen profile image

At 67 and a pen pusher, I never used to walk before my HA, lost 14kg and much of the effects of arthritis and now walk 3-5km every single day, need to improve my upper body which is pretty depleated. I am inherently lazy, doing only what I have to, but this is a "have too". Want to buy a biggish motorcycle next year and working to be able to do that.

HectorsDad profile image

Lots of good advice here. I’d add..

It’s perfectly ok to be worried, even a little panicked at times. It’s your heart- there would be something wrong if you didn’t worry!

And take it gently. Lots of people get a surge of energy and enthusiasm in the first few weeks, over do it, and have to start again. Just be careful, build up slowly.

For me, the best thing was to start doing something new, so I had something growing that wasn’t related to my previous life, so no comparisons.

Finally..... obviously your partner should give up smoking too. Yes I know it’s hard- but an emotional commitment is one of the best ways.

Pitt12345 profile image

My husband had massive heart attack in January and four stents in arteries. He is 73 We have just returned from walking in the Austrian Tyrol. Did over 50 miles and he was fine. It was hard walking in the mountains but he didn’t have any issues . He has completed cardio rehab and has continued doing Stage 4 which is now a payable exercise but will be good when the weather is too bad for walking outside. You will get there

Ianc2 profile image
Ianc2 in reply to Pitt12345

No such thing as bad weather, just bad wet weather gear. Don't go telling everyone about Austria, the prices will go up and the lifts will be packed out. Just got a last minute cheap trip to lake maggiore and I am looking forward to nipping over the Simplon pass to visit Zermatt and see the Matterhorn.

I joined the Austrian Alpine club for helicopter rescue cover in case I fall over and try not to indulge in too many mountain top cafes. I am 74 so I am determined to seize the day. Who did you travel with?

Pitt12345 profile image
Pitt12345 in reply to Ianc2


Will probably depend on what condition your heart is in, do you know what your echo result was of if there was any damage to your heart?

Steadyeddie100 profile image

You can get back to where you were, but a life style change will be needed. As you have admitted, stop Smoking and a better diet, is a good place to begin. However, its not an instantaneous solution. I had a CABG x 3, 56 weeks ago, and I am just getting back to where I was. I am 56, but it all about being patient, and listening to your body. Good Luck!!

tunybgur profile image

After my HA it took about a year to develop enough confidence to get back into full exercise.

You have to take it slowly at first while your heart is healing, but eventually everything should get back to near normal, you should be offered rehab which is great, and I was referred to a specialist cardio rehab trainer at my local gym.

Initially I used a heart rate monitor to make sure I didn't overdo it, it's good for confidence.

It's 7 years since my HA, I'm 71 and go to the gym twice a week, walk lots, and play 2 full rounds of golf every week, what's slowing me down now is arthritus, but that's all part of the ageing process.

Good luck.

susatyer profile image

Well done for giving up smoking brilliant 👍 Eat healthy and I promise you will be fitter than before you had your heart attack that's a definite

Arkoia53 profile image

I had quite a major Ablation on the 14th February to correct dilated ventricle and a very erratic heart rhythm. 7 months on and things are still looking really good with a sinus rhythm and a much improved EF. I am still on all the medication (bisoprolol, Ramipril, eplerenone and apixaban) but I have been going from strength to strength with being able to exercise again. I have always been an athlete and started very slowly and patiently post surgery. I started gentle swimming then jogging again and built it up. I can now again Swim 1500m continuous and clocked 26.29 at my local park run on Saturday with an average HR of 133. Its great to be doing this again as at one point it was looking like I would never be able to do this again. Good luck with your recovery.

Ianc2 profile image

A minor point - If you want to go wandering in remote areas consider joining the Ramblers, or take a phone and make sure you have a signal. Enjoy your walks.

Qualipop profile image

First don't expect instant results and don't rush it. The heart attack will have caused damage that needs to heal. but yes you will get there. In a couple of weeks you should be invited to cardiac rehab. Do it! Exercise under supervision does wonders for your confidence. You may get side effects from tablets and may have to change some but do persevere if any make you feel really rough. Congratulations on stopping smoking; that was what caused mine. I stopped immediately but started again 6 months later. Don't! I found the diet change the easiest even with my husband demanding pie and chips. He's even had soya mince without knowing.

Surreychica_1 profile image

Well my friend who is a medical doctor had a heart attack, he had been running marathons before that. He had 98 blockage and didnt feel a thing until he had the HA. He was, of course, lucky to survive with such a blockage, but he is now back to running marathons!! So that should tell you, you can, with the right diet, meds etc get back to where you were, take it easy though, nice and slowly and build up.

Wishing you well

Harbourside profile image

I was 44 when I suffered a heart attack and subsequent cardiac arrest in January; I had a blocked artery (one stent implanted). I was fairly active, in good health otherwise but have had an incredibly stressful past few years, which is what the HA was attributed to.

Cardiac rehab is fantastic and should not be missed. I also regained a lot of self confidence, as well as the obvious physical benefits. I've joined my local heart support group and do a 1-hr cardiac session every Friday (but would like to do more). Whilst I'm the youngest by a good 20 years(!), they're a great bunch. In addition, I do several long walks a week. I'm still working to improve my diet.

My GP has informed me that it's likely I can achieve a 90-95% recovery, which is great, especially as I remember how awful I felt in those first weeks pre-HA.

Best wishes for a swift recovery.

Runnerbegood profile image

Hi there...totally understand how you are feeling. Had a heart attack while doing a half marathon. I kept telling them for 6 months prior something not right but told fit for age, 64 as of 2 weeks ago! It was weird not being able to drive for first 4 weeks... your base level of fitness after walking the distances you've done is still there. It's scary at first, you want reassurance it will not happen again but try and put into prospective, crossing the road can be more dangerous! You've stopped smoking, diet changed and stent in place. Build the miles week by week and suddenly you will surprise yourself. Those around you need to see the build up as they will be concerned your going to quick. I've managed to do another half and returning to do half where I had attack and thank St Johns ambulance!!! We're the lucky ones!!!!

Malcolm631911 profile image

Very similar to me walker100. Is your injection fraction ok . Mine was 58% after heart attack 62% two years down the line. I exercise regularly, taking my heart rate up to 140.

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