Home exercises and walking - exercise after a heart attack

Walking is a great way to build up fitness

Walking is a great way to build up fitness

Before you leave hospital the cardiac rehabilitation nurse, or physiotherapist, will give you advice on when you can 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. The key with exercise after a heart attack is to start slowly, do something every day and gradually build up your level of activity.

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.

Below is an example of a suggested programme, but you must also take into account how you feel. You should only work to the suggested times if you feel comfortable, can talk easily without being short of breath and have no chest pain throughout. The weeks refer to the date you begin, to show you how to progress.

Week 1* 200m In approx 5 mins
Week 2 400 – 500m In approx 10 mins
Week 3 500 – 750m In approx 15 mins
Week 4 750 – 1250m In approx 20 mins
Week 5 1250 – 1750m In approx 25 – 30 mins
Week 6 1750 – 3000m In approx 30 – 40 mins

* (About 10 days after a heart attack)

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.

What to avoid at this 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
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