Be Safe While Being Active

Updated:Oct 12,2016

Group of Elderly Walking and ExercisingAsk your doctor when you can begin a physical activity program. Your doctor can help you find a program suited to your needs and physical condition and may refer you to a formal cardiac rehabilitation program to help you learn to be active safely. You may also need an exercise stress test before you become active again.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Before you start and after you finish aerobic or strengthening activity, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes, then do some stretching. Stretching exercises are effective in increasing flexibility, and thereby can allow people to more easily do activities that require greater flexibility. Warming up, cooling down and stretching allows a gradual increase in heart rate and breathing at the start of your workout, as well as a gradual decrease at the end. Time spent doing flexibility activities by themselves does not count toward meeting the aerobic or muscle-strengthening

Download a stretching illustration sheet.

Monitor Your Intensity

Your healthcare team will tell you how intense your physical activity should be — probably between a fairly light intensity and a hard intensity. A good rule of thumb is to work hard enough to breathe harder but still be able to carry on a conversation. If you can sing, you may not be working hard enough. You may also need to monitor your heart rate (pulse) and blood pressure.

Watch for Warning Signs

Warning signs that you're working too hard include:

  • Angina: a feeling of squeezing, burning, pressure, heaviness or tightness under the breastbone that may spread to your left or shoulder, back, throat or jaw.
  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or confused.
  • Feeling extremely tired after physical activity.
  • Unusual or extreme shortness of breath.
  • Fast or uneven heartbeat.

If you notice these signs during or after physical activity, stop and call your doctor right away. If you have angina that doesn't go away immediately with rest, take nitroglycerin if you have it. If your angina lasts for more than five minutes, or if you also have other symptoms such as nausea and sweating, call 9-1-1 or have someone take you to the nearest emergency room. You may be having a heart attack.

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This content was last reviewed July 2015.