Exercise and the Woman's Heart

Exercise and the Woman's Heart

Exercise can be a lifesaver for women with heart disease. Your heart is a muscle. Like any muscle, it becomes stronger with exercise and pumps blood through the arteries to the body more efficiently. At the same time, exercise improves the performance of the muscles in the rest of your body. Research shows that the specific benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Relieving or decreasing the symptoms of angina (chest pain)
  • Lessening fatigue, shortness of breath and perceived exertion during physical activity
  • Stopping or reversing the buildup of blockages in the coronary arteries (vessels that supply blood to the heart)
  • Reducing cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol
  • Helping you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, especially when you also eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Reducing stress and improving your sense of well-being

For women with cardiovascular disease, it is important to take the following steps before starting exercise: Set reasonable exercise goals, get appropriate screening before you start and ask about your specific exercise program. Cardiac rehabilitation (supervised exercise and education) is considered standard care in the treatment of people with heart disease.

Exercise Guidelines

When beginning an exercise program:

  • Start slowly. Increase speed, distance and duration gradually.
  • Warm up thoroughly before your exercise session to stimulate your blood flow.
  • Cool down slowly after the session by walking and stretching.
  • Drink water before and after exercising, especially on a hot day.

Exercise Warning Signs

Listen to your body. You should stop or avoid exercising if:

  • You have an empty stomach, or you just ate a heavy meal.
  • You are not feeling well.
  • The day is very hot (more than 81 degrees F) or very humid (more than 30% humidity). Take caution on a cool windy day, especially if the temperature is 18 degrees F or below.
  • You feel lightheaded, breathless, nauseated or overly tired.
  • You develop muscle or joint pains.

It is a medical emergency if you develop discomfort, heaviness or tightness in your chest or arms, or a cold sweat, extreme breathlessness, palpitations or faintness. For all emergencies, call 911.

Meet the Women's Cardiovascular Health Team

Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is a nationally recognized destination for those who require highly specialized cardiovascular care.
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