Cardiac rehab: When to stop exercising and call your doctor

Exercise is safe and beneficial in your cardiac rehabilitation program. Exercise helps you return to your normal life. But there is a small risk of complications.1 When you exercise, it is important that you are aware of signs and symptoms that mean that you should stop exercising and contact your doctor.

If any of the following symptoms last for more than a few minutes before, during, or after your exercise session, stop exercising and seek medical help.

  • Any unusual discomfort, such as chest pain or angina
  • Nausea
  • Extremely heavy breathing
  • Severe fatigue
  • Extreme sweating
  • Abnormal changes in heart rate, including either of the following:
    • Unexplained low heart rate, or
    • Dramatically higher heart rate than your target heart rate
  • Abnormal blood pressure, including any of the following:
    • Drop in systolic blood pressure
    • Failure of systolic blood pressure to rise
    • Excessive blood pressure (over 240/100 millimeters of mercury, or mm Hg)
  • Blood sugar below 80 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or above 250 mg/dL

Your ability to identify how your body is responding to exercise and what physical conditions are normal is necessary for your rehabilitation. It is important that you monitor specific physical information to be aware not only of your improvement but also of possible complications. If you are experiencing any other physical or medical concerns such as the flu, backache, or knee pain, it is best that you put off exercising until the problem passes. You should seek medical advice if it does not.


  1. Thompson PD, et al. (2007). Exercise and acute cardiovascular events. Placing the risks into perspective. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism and the Council on Clinical Cardiology. Circulation, 115(17): 2358–2368.

Last Updated: October 8, 2008

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