Exercising After A Heart Attack

Exercising after a serious illness is never easy, but here are some tips to get you moving again.


By Sarah Klena


After my heart attack, one of the first questions I had for the cardiologist was, “When can I run again?” The answer was definitely not what I was looking for: 3 months. I worried about losing all my progress and about being the slowest runner in my group. His suggestion? Cardiac rehab. 

During cardiac rehab, I was worried that my heart wouldn’t be strong enough to handle the stress of the workouts. I also worried that the stress would trigger another heart attack or cause me to pass out. Every time I felt my heart rate increase, I panicked. I would slow down, start walking or even skip running all together because I was so anxious at the thought of dying. 

The nurses at cardiac rehab were amazingly patient. They let me cry when I was frustrated, but didn’t allow me to make excuses. Cardiac rehab was the best transition back into exercise I could’ve imagined. I needed the accountability and the tough love to move forward with exercising and, frankly, with my life. 

Little by little, my anxiety subsided and my love for running returned. 10 months after my heart attack, I ran a half marathon. 

It’s never easy starting to exercise again, but it’s even harder returning to exercise after an illness. So for my friends and fellow survivors out there who are returning to exercising, here are my personal tips on how to do so: 

1. Don’t let fear paralyze you. It’s going to be hard. You are going to be sore. Sometimes your emotions will get the best of you. Start again and don’t give up because the payoff will feel amazing. 

2. Take precautions. You don’t want to end up right back where you started or do too much too fast. After cardiac rehab, I made sure I took all of the precautions I could. I drank tons of water, wore my heart rate monitor, ran with my cell phone in case there was an emergency and kept my nitroglycerin spray in my running bag. 

3. Be patient with yourself. You may not be as fast/strong/flexible as you were before and that’s ok. With hard work, you will get there. Remember, you are a warrior. 

4. Don’t work out to look good, work out to feel good. You’ve been through a tough time and exercise is your ticket to being around for awhile. Focus on health, not hotness. 

5. Reward yourself when you reach a milestone. Walked a 5k? Go for brunch with friends. Back into yoga? Snag some new workout clothes. Mark the accomplishments with something, even if it’s small. 

6. Workout with friends. I was not only working on my running with my training group, but I talked things out and received support from my friends. They want to see you succeed and be happy, so lean on them for moral support. 

7. Rest. If you don’t feel well, don’t push it. Take the day to meditate, stretch watch your favorite movie, or simply take a nap. Tomorrow is a new day and life goes by too fast. Honor your body by letting it regenerate and regrow. 

Sarah Klena is a blogger, educator and runner living in Orlando, Florida. After surviving a massive widow maker heart attack at the age of 31, she has made heart disease awareness her mission. Through her blog Heart Attack at 31, work with the American Heart Association and speaking engagements, she tells her story and motivates others to take care of their hearts. Her story has been featured in Good Housekeeping magazine, The Dr Oz show and in numerous online publications.

Main Photo Credit: Andrey Orietsky/; Second Photo Credit: Asier Romero/