Congenital heart failure can cause your heart to fail. You may feel tired or short of breath. You may have chest pain or swelling in the ankle.

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, your doctor may recommend you participate in cardiac rehabilitation.

This article will show you how cardiac rehab can help you when you have heart failure. If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, you should consult a doctor before you start exercising.

How does cardiac rehab help strengthen the heart?

When you have heart failure, it’s not always possible to reverse the damage to your heart.

However, you can try to reduce your risk factors for worsening heart failure while also enhancing your quality of life. These are the goals for an exercise-based cardiac rehab program, along with reducing mortality or risks for death.

Cardiac rehabilitation can help you make healthy lifestyle changes that will improve your heart health. As part of a cardiac rehab program, you can engage in regular exercise.

Exercise can have a number of effects.

  • You can strengthen your muscles. Lifting or moving without using the heart is better for your body.
  • Your lung function can improve, which helps to reduce demands on your heart, according to 2018 research.
  • You can relieve stress and anxiety, which places less stress on the heart and mind.
  • You can feel less fatigued, which can improve your quality of life.
  • You may extend your life. Research from 2021 found that patients with heart failure who participated in cardiac rehab exercise programs experienced a 35 percent reduction in mortality over a period of 2 years.

Cardiac rehab is not for everyone. It can be different depending on how much your heart failure is. It may be difficult for people with heart failure to tolerate exercise.

What is cardiac rehabilitation like?

Cardiac rehab usually includes several factors, such as:

  • Exercise counseling. You’ll receive information on how to exercise safely with heart failure, including signs you’re overworking your heart or can work harder.
  • Risk factor counseling. Some lifestyle factors increase your risk for heart failure worsening. These include smoking, excess alcohol consumption, and poor nutritional choices. Cardiac rehab includes information on how to minimize your risk factors to improve your health.
  • Stress reduction counseling. Stress is another aspect that can have ill effects on your heart. Cardiac rehabilitation focuses on stress reduction techniques to help you live better with heart failure.

Can cardiac rehab cause heart failure?

Both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology recommend cardiac rehab as a class I recommendation for heart failure treatment, according to the 2021 research mentioned earlier.

Class I recommendations are those that have been researched and proven to be beneficial.

Sometimes a person with heart failure should not participate in cardiac rehab since the exercise could make their heart failure worse. This is true in some instances.

  • “If you are having heart failure symptoms. If you are experiencing a lot of chest pain, you probably wouldn’t benefit from cardiac rehab at this time.”
  • If you have a history of irregular heart rhythms, your doctor will tell you that you need a device. You should have these interventions before you start cardiac rehab.
  • If you have a number of medical conditions that make exercise difficult, you should. Severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, poor muscle tone or function, or other heart conditions are examples.

If you are a good candidate for cardiac rehab, you should have a doctor evaluate you. You should make an appointment to speak with someone after a heart attack. Cardiac rehab can help you improve your quality of life.

Cardiac rehab heart rate guidelines

When you have heart failure, your heart does not pump as much as it used to. If your heart rate is too fast or your blood pressure is too high, it will cause your heart to strain more and it will not be able to move blood effectively.

A doctor may prescribe a certain heart rate range to make sure you can exercise safely. Since you will wear a heart rate monitor, you and the cardiac rehabilitation staff can make sure your heart rate does not go too high.

The following chart illustrates how exercise intensity and maximum heart rate connect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Intensity Target heart rate ranges (%)
low less than 55
moderate 55 to 69
high 70 to 90
maximal greater than 90

To You may have noticed a term above called target heart rate. You can calculate your maximum heart rate using your age. You can subtract your age from 220 to estimate this.

Let us consider an example. You are 65 years old and your doctor has prescribed a moderate intensity of cardiac rehabilitation for you. To calculate this.

  1. Subtract 65 from 220.
    • 220 to 65 is equivalent to 155.
    • 155 is your maximum heart rate.
  2. Next, calculate your safe heart rate range for exercising at moderate intensity.
    • 85.25 is the number of 155 X 0.55.
    • 105.95) is the number of x 0.69
  3. The desired heart rate for moderate exercise is between 85 and 107 beats per minute.

When you attend cardiac rehab, you can ask the personnel how to stay within your target heart rate. If your heart starts beating too fast, watching your heart rate monitor in rehab is a good place to start.

What exercises can you do with heart failure?

When you think about exercise, it’s easy to think of running or kickboxing. But there are other exercise types beyond these high impact activities. Examples include:

  • Resistance exercises. This exercise type builds muscles by having you exercise against resistance. Lifting small weights and using resistance bands are examples of these exercise types.
  • Balance exercises. These exercises help you maintain your balance and typically have a mindfulness component. Examples include some yoga types and tai chi.
  • Aerobic exercises. These exercise types raise your heart rate to burn calories and increase your body’s oxygen demand. Examples of these exercises include walking, riding a bicycle, and swimming.

You can complete most exercises when you have heart failure. The key is to not put too much of a demand on your heart.

A cardiac rehab program will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygenation to make sure you are doing your workouts safely.

At-home cardiac rehabilitation

Sometimes, you may not be able to travel to a facility to regularly participate in cardiac rehab. When this is the case, home-based cardiac rehab can help. A 2019 review found that home-based cardiac rehab can improve heart function and quality of life.

However, the key is to make sure you’re exercising safely. One way you can do this is to monitor your heart rate to determine how much you’re challenging your heart when you exercise. There are many smartwatches and other at-home technologies that let you easily monitor your heart rate.

Make sure to follow the guidelines and exercise plan given to you by your cardiac rehab team.

How do I know if my heart failure is getting worse?

When you have heart failure, it’s important to talk with your doctor about signs and symptoms that mean you need to seek medical attention. Be sure to listen to your body and consider the following.

According to the AHA, you should call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms, which could indicate worsening heart failure:

  • There is abdominal swelling.
  • hacking cough, dry
  • There is a noticeable lack of breath with any activity level.
  • Problems sleeping
  • swollen feet or legs
  • A person can gain up to 3 pounds in a 24 hour period.

If you have any of the symptoms, call the emergency room.

  • appetite loss
  • frequent hacking cough, dry
  • “It’s difficult to lie flat when sleeping.”
  • Even at rest, there is a lack of breath.
  • There is a lot of pain or swelling of the abdomen, feet, or legs.
  • A person can gain up to 3 pounds in a 24 hour period.


Cardiac rehab is a way to prolong and enhance your life if you have stable heart failure. The cardiac rehab programs can help you identify healthy habits that can help you live better with heart failure.

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, you should talk to your doctor to see if you are a good candidate for cardiac rehab.