Lifestyle Changes for Heart Failure

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Small changes can make a big difference

Following recommendations about diet, exercise and other habits can help alleviate heart failure symptoms, slow your disease’s progression and improve your everyday life. In fact, people with mild to moderate heart failure often can lead nearly normal lives as a result. Important lifestyle changes may include:

Quitting smoking

Each puff of nicotine from tobacco smoke temporarily increases heart rate and blood pressure, even as less oxygen-rich blood circulates through the body. Smoking also leads to clumping or stickiness in the blood vessels feeding the heart.

People who quit smoking are more likely to have their heart failure symptoms improve.

Learn more about quitting smoking.

Maintaining or losing weight

Sudden weight gain or loss can be a sign that you’re developing heart failure, or that your heart failure is progressing. Weigh yourself at the same time each morning, preferably before breakfast and after urinating. Notify your healthcare professional if you gain three or more pounds in one day, five or more pounds in one week, or whatever amount you were told to report.

Learn more about maintaining a healthy weight.

Tracking your daily fluid intake

If you have heart failure, it’s common for your body to retain fluid. So your healthcare team may recommend limiting your liquid intake.

Many people are prescribed diuretics (water pills) to help them get rid of extra water and sodium to reduce their heart’s workload.

Talk with your doctor about how much liquid to drink every day.

Avoiding or limiting alcohol

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. This means no more than one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Talk to your doctor about whether it’s OK for you to drink alcohol.

Learn more about alcohol and heart disease.

Avoiding or limiting caffeine

Consume only a moderate amount of caffeine per day, no more than a cup or two of coffee.

Learn more about caffeine and heart disease.

Eating a heart-healthy diet

Eat an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils. Also, limit saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Being physically active

If you’re not physically active, talk to your doctor about starting an exercise regimen. Schedule physical activity at the same time every day so it becomes a regular part of your lifestyle. If moderate exercise isn’t possible for you, consider participating in a structured rehabilitation program.

Managing stress

Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to sit quietly, breathe deeply and think of a peaceful scene. Or try a class in yoga or meditation. (Check with your doctor first before undertaking a strenuous yoga class.) When you get angry, count to 10 before responding to help reduce your stress.

Learn more about managing stress.

Keeping track of symptoms

Report any changes that concern you to your healthcare professional.

Monitoring your blood pressure

Monitoring blood pressure at home, in addition to regular monitoring in a doctor’s office, can help control high blood pressure.

Chart your blood pressure readings over time. This can reveal trends and help to eliminate false readings.

Find out more about how healthy eating can lower your blood pressure with the DASH eating plan.

Getting adequate rest

To improve your sleep at night, use pillows to prop up your head. Avoid naps and big meals right before bedtime. Try napping after lunch or putting your feet up for a few minutes every couple of hours.

Learn about sleep apnea and heart disease.

Seeking support

Join a support group for people with heart failure and other heart conditions.

Contact local congregations and volunteer centers to find out about programs that provide meals, transportation and errand services for people who need assistance.

Avoiding flu and pneumonia with vaccinations

Flu and pneumonia pose greater dangers for people who have heart failure (or any heart condition) than for healthy people.

Pneumonia is a lung infection that keeps your body from using oxygen as efficiently as it should. Your heart has to work harder to pump oxygenated blood through the body. If you have heart failure, you should avoid putting this extra stress on your heart.

Ask your doctor or another healthcare professional about getting a yearly influenza (flu) vaccine and a one-time pneumococcal vaccine. (The latter guards against the most common form of bacterial pneumonia.)

Both vaccines are generally safe and seldom cause any severe reactions. It’s much riskier not to be vaccinated against flu and pneumonia. You might have some pain or swelling at the site of the shot (on the arm), but this will go away after a few days.

Read more about flu and pneumonia.

Following heart patient guidelines for sexual activity

Many people with heart failure can still be sexually active. Choose a time when you’re feeling rested and free from the day’s stresses.

Learn more about sex and heart disease.

Selecting appropriate clothing

Avoid tight socks or stockings, such as thigh-high or knee-high hose, that slow blood flow to the legs and cause clots. Avoid temperature extremes as much as possible, too. Dress in layers so that you can add or remove garments as needed.

Lifestyle changes worth making

Making some of these lifestyle changes can be easier said than done. But working these changes into your daily routine can make a real difference in your quality of life.

Living with heart failure

Inspired by her mom, Queen Latifah says that keeping a positive attitude and always being supportive are key to helping a loved one manage heart failure. She also has advice for caregivers: It’s important to care for your own health as well.

Read Queen Latifah’s Top 10 caregiving tips (PDF).


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