And you don’t need to max out your heart rate to reap the benefits of exercise, either—in fact, you shouldn’t go all-out right off the bat, Dr. Weinberg says. A better starting point? Brisk walking, she suggests. That will increase your heart rate slightly, which builds strength in your heart muscle, improves blood flow, and can lower blood pressure. This gradual approach is important, since your heart needs to be slowly conditioned over time to safely take on more work, she adds.
While everyone is different based on the severity of their heart issues and overall fitness level, starting with a modest amount of exercise—say, a 15-minute walk daily for a few weeks—can help you develop a baseline, says Dr. Weinberg. Then you can build in duration from there.
At that point, you don’t necessarily have to stick to the steady-state stuff. Dr. Weinberg says short bursts of activity interspersed with longer rests may be appropriate too. For example: pickleball, tennis, kayaking, or rock climbing.
All of this doesn’t mean you have to skip HIIT or forget about your treadmill or elliptical, according to Dr. Weinberg. Gradual and thoughtful progression is the key here.
“The advice to ‘listen to your body’ may be standard by now, but it’s still worth repeating,” she says, adding that safe progression will also involve regularly checking in with your doctor.
Keep these tips in mind for your cardio session.
Before you jump into your routine, you should always do a proper warm-up, even if you’re short on time, Jesse Grund, CSCS, owner of Unconventional Strength in Orlando who works with clients with heart conditions, tells SELF. He recommends at least 10 minutes of easy exercise like brisk walking or dynamic bodyweight moves like squats, lunges, or light overhead presses to get your muscles warm and your blood flowing. This helps your heart gradually adjust to the higher demands of exercise, Grund says. (Along the same note, you should always end with a cooldown of roughly the same length to bring your heart back to baseline, he says—think static moves for this, like downward dog or a forward fold over your legs while seated, in which you hold a position for a set amount of time.)