Avoid strenuous activity if you have active inflammation from pericarditis. After the inflammation lowers, your doctor can recommend exercises that are safe to do.

Pericarditis is a rare disease that affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States. Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, a thin sac that surrounds the heart. Often, it is due to viral infections. When the pericardium is inflamed, chest pain that feels like a heart attack can occur.

Pericarditis-related inflammation can last a few weeks to several months or longer. During this time, it’s important to rest and take any medications your doctor prescribes.

Avoid strenuous activity if you have pericarditis, and talk with your doctor before returning to exercise.

Learn more about pericarditis here.

On the most basic level, exercising with pericarditis can be uncomfortable, and your athletic ability may be limited.

More critically, though, exercising while you have pericarditis can lead to more serious heart conditions like myocarditis, which can increase the chance of sudden cardiac death.

Heart doctors think that elevated heart rates from exercise may cause greater stress on the pericardium, increasing inflammation and extending the length of the disease. Since prolonged pericarditis increases the chance of more serious complications, it’s important to avoid this whenever possible.

Exercise is usually thought to be good for the heart, but there is a period of time following a strenuous workout when the body undergoes immunodepression.

The length of this immunodepression varies depending on the extent of the exercise. This is especially true when pericarditis is caused by a virus, as other cells in the heart may become open to infection as well.

In addition to increasing the chance of myocarditis and cardiac infections, intense exercise can also increase inflammation in the body, further strengthening the pericarditis symptoms you experience.

If you have pericarditis, it’s important to discuss with your doctor the type of activities they feel are safe for you to continue. In general, you’ll likely only be able to do low intensity physical activities like walking while you have any signs of inflammation.

Once all signs of inflammation have resolved, your doctor will likely recommend a gradual return to exercise. This means slowly increasing both the length and intensity of your workouts.

While you are returning to exercise, your doctor may also request that you pause at various intervals to check your heart rate and to determine if any symptoms of pericarditis have returned.

In general, research about exercise restriction with pericarditis, especially for nonathletes, is lacking. More research in the future may offer greater guidance on how much exercise and what type of exercise you should do during and after pericarditis.

If you have pericarditis, it’s important to avoid strenuous activity of any kind until you have no signs of active inflammation. This is when you no longer have a fever or inflammatory markers.

Doctors used to recommend 3–6 months of exercise restriction if you have pericarditis, but more recent recommendations encourage at least 1–3 months of rest.

For professional athletes, this long period of rest time can pose deconditioning issues along with mental health and financial concerns.

Doctors may suggest using close clinical monitoring and testing to determine if you can safely resume exercise sooner. Even with monitoring, if you are an athlete, doctors still recommend not engaging in competitive sports until the inflammation is no longer active.

If you have recurrent pericarditis, your doctor may recommend:

Recurrent pericarditis

Up to 30% of people with pericarditis experience a recurrence within 18 months of their initial diagnosis. If you see signs that your pericarditis may have returned, notify your doctor right away.

Symptoms of recurrent pericarditis include:

  • a dull ache or pressure in your chest that gets worse when coughing or lying down
  • difficulty breathing
  • palpitations or faster than usual heartbeat
  • low grade fever
  • swollen abdomen, legs, or feet
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
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It’s important to avoid strenuous activity while you have active inflammation from pericarditis. This can last for several weeks or several months. During this time, it’s important to rest and take any medications your doctor may prescribe.

Always check with your doctor before resuming exercise after pericarditis. If you have any questions about the safety of an activity, your doctor can help advise you.

More research into the best way to return to exercising after pericarditis still needs to be done.