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A Heart Healthy Tip: How to Safely Start an Exercise Routine After A DVT or PE

By Stephanie Lew, PT, DPT
Originally from The Beat - Spring 2016

People who are diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism (PE- a blood clot in the lungs) or deep vein thrombosis (DVT – a blood clot in the deep veins, typically in the legs) often have a lot of questions about when it is safe to start exercising, what exercises are safe for them to do, and what symptoms (if any) they might experience upon return to exercise.

Resuming a regular exercise program after having a PE or DVT is important, not only for your overall cardiovascular health, but also to help prevent another PE or DVT from happening.  Since everyone’s PE or DVT are different, there is no one answer about when it is safe to start exercising again, so make sure you speak with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program. 

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a PE, you may feel short of breath, have chest pain, and/or become easily fatigued when you start exercising. Following a DVT, your leg may be swollen, tender, red, or hot to the touch. These symptoms should improve over time, and exercise often helps. Walking and exercise are safe to do, but be sure to listen to your body to avoid overexertion.

If you are new to physical activity or just want to ease back into a routine after having a PE or DVT, we suggest starting with a beginner walking routine.  To start, choose a route that is close to home, relatively flat, and has plenty of places to rest along the way (for example, a local park or shopping mall).  You want to warm-up first by walking slowly for 5 minutes, then increase your activity each week as follows:

Week 1 - Walk for 5 minutes at a comfortable pace, 3-4 times per day
Week 2 - Walk for 10 minutes, 3 times per day
Week 3 - Walk for 15 minutes 2 times per day
Week 4 - Walk for 30 minutes, once daily

Your goal is to walk for 30 to 45 minutes, 5 to 7 days per week.

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Strength training is also an important part of maintaining your overall health.  It is safe to return to your routine if you already have a strength training program. If you want to begin weight training, and have never used weights before, it is recommended that you seek professional advice. Ask your primary care physician for a referral to a professional who can create an individualized strength training program for you.

Exercise is an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, and can not only help prevent another DVT or PE, but also a variety of other thrombotic diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

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