Northside Health Library

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 starting to exercise, your doctor may have you do an exercise test and should give you exercise recommendations an exercise plan. This may happen before you leave the hospital or soon afterward. Do not change your exercise plan before talking with your doctor or nurse first.

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 1 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 doctor or nurse first. Avoid a lot of activity on days that are very hot or cold.

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 a pail of water.
  • If any activities cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or any of the symptoms that you had before or during your heart attack, stop doing them right away. Tell your doctor or nurse.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor 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
  • Lightheaded

Also call your doctor if you have angina and it:

  • Becomes stronger
  • Occurs more often
  • Lasts longer
  • Occurs when you are not active
  • If drugs no longer help ease your angina symptoms as well as they did

These changes may mean your heart disease is getting worse.


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 Aug 14;50(7):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 Jan 15;117(2):296-329. Epub 2007 Dec 10.   

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 Nov 29;58(23):2432-46. Epub 2011 Nov 3. 

Antman EM and Morrow DA. ST-Elevation myocardialinfarction: management. In Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald'sHeart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Saunders; 2011:chap 55. 

Cannon CP and Braunwald E. Unstable angina and non-ST elevation myocardial infarction. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald'sHeart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Saunders; 2011:chap 56.  

Review Date: 8/28/2012
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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