The Best Exercise for Cardiac Patients

April 14, 2016

After a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, the natural inclination is to be careful, and until you are stable, that is a good idea. However, a growing number of studies show that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is safe, well tolerated and superior to moderate exercise for cardiac patients from a wide range of cardiac events.


HIIT consists of alternating periods of intense exercise with periods of lower-intensity effort for recovery. It means less time exercising, with the same or greater health benefits than those derived from low-intensity endurance training.

High-intensity workouts can be done in the comfort of your home with little or no equipment in a 10-20 minute session. For more in-depth information on HIIT please refer to HIIT: NOT JUST FOR ATHLETES.

For decades HIIT has been used to train elite athletes, but a growing number of scientific studies show that it is also effective and safe for cardiac patients.

A very large 2012 study of 4,846 patients with coronary heart disease clearly demonstrated that high-intensity exercise provides greater health benefits than moderate-intensity exercise for patients with coronary heart disease, and most importantly, is safe to do.

Studies have shown that HIIT is superior to moderate exercise for a number of heart patients including:

In addition to helping with so many types of heart disease, it has also been shown that the greater the intensity of the exercise, the better. A 2014 study of 112 coronary heart patients had them engage in high-intensity interval training at three different intensity levels of <88%, 88–92%, and >92% over a 12 week period. There were health improvements in all three groups, but the higher the intensity of the exercise, the bigger the improvements.

To top it all off, a 2016 randomized study of 19 patients with ischaemic heart failure showed that after 12 weeks of HIIT there was significant improvement with regard to the symptoms of anxiety and depression versus no improvement with moderate exercise.
Exercise has numerous benefits for cardiac patients, including weight loss, and these benefits are amplified with HIIT,  which is also easier to stick with than traditional cardio workouts.

Particularly for those not used to regular exercise, HIIT may require specific assessment or instruction. It is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare practitioner or a certified trainer before starting an exercise program.