Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Heart Failure

Animation Movie AvailableYour Heart Failure Management Plan

Lifestyle changes can play an important role in heart failure management. They can slow the progress of the disease and help you feel better. They can also decrease the impact of the disease on your day-to-day life.

Dietary Changes

Your doctor may recommend changes to your diet. These changes include:

Lose Excess Weight

Excess weight can put a strain on the heart muscle. It can worsen your heart failure symptoms. If you are overweight, talk with a dietitian. They can help you with portion control and meal planning.

Monitor Salt and Fluid Intake

Fluid can build up in your lungs, abdomen, legs, ankles, or feet. If you have this type of build up, it is important to be careful of your sodium and fluid intake. You may need to decrease or stop your salt intake. Fluid intake may be limited.

Sodium comes from table salt and many of the foods you eat. This includes processed foods, such as breads, deli meats, or condiments. It is important to read food labels. Look for sodium content so you can better manage your total daily intake.

Ask your doctor or dietitian how much salt and fluid is right for you.

Limit Fats and Cholesterol

Saturated fats cause hardening and blockages in your arteries. These blockages make your heart work harder to pump blood. Limiting the amount of saturated fats in your diet can help decrease these blockages and ease heart strain. Saturated fats are found in animal products, cream, lard, and palm and coconut oils. Talk with a dietitian about heart-healthy fats.

Quit Smoking

Smoking makes your heart work harder. It increases blood pressure and heart rate while reducing the amount of oxygen in your blood. Talk with your doctor about the best way to help you quit smoking. Also remember that secondhand smoke is also harmful. Make sure you are not exposed to cigarette smoke if at all possible.

Maintain Normal Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a main cause of heart failure. It makes the heart work harder to push blood out into the body. Work with your doctor to keep your blood pressure under control. This may include medicine and lifestyle changes. Regular exercise and heart healthy diet will help as well. The DASH diet has been shown to help reduce blood pressure. Talk to your doctor or dietitian to see if the plan could work for you.

Decrease or Discontinue Alcohol Consumption

Drinking too much alcohol can make the heart weaker. It can also increase your chance of having bad heart rhythms. Alcohol can react with certain heart medicine.

Reducing or stopping alcohol consumption may help with symptoms. Moderate drinking is defined as two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Exercise Regularly

Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Regular activity can help you manage heart failure. You may not be able to have the same level of intensity as the past. Regular aerobic training can help increase your physical abilities and quality of life. Aim for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. Begin slowly and work your way to this goal. Your doctor may have you do an exercise test before starting a program. It will test your heart under stress.

If you have severe heart failure, heavy lifting or extreme exertion is not recommended.

Sexual Activity

It is normal for you or your partner to feel worried about sex. In general, people who have heart failure that is stable can have sex. Talk to your doctor to know if it is safe for you.

Counseling

If you are having trouble managing your heart failure, ask your doctor about counseling. Counselors can help you develop skill to live with a chronic condition. It also may be helpful to join a support group. There you can meet others who have heart failure.

Other Management

  • Oxygen therapy—Increases oxygen in the blood. Oxygen therapy may allow you to resume or continue activities.
  • Vaccination—to help prevent common infections like cold, flu, or pneumonia. May include:
    • Flu vaccine
    • Pneumonia vaccine
  • Cardiac rehabilitation—Education and counseling to help start exercise and lifestyle changes. May reduce the risk of further heart-related conditions.
  • You may be asked to track your weight. Record and report significant weight gains that occur in a day or week. An upswing in weight may suggest a worsening of your heart failure.
  • Keep in touch with your care team. Stick to your treatment plan. Your needs may change over time. Work with your team to stay on top of any changes or problems.
  • Be active in your care plan. Talk to your team about symptoms or treatments that you are having difficulty with. Other treatments options may be available to help you better manage your heart failure.

When to Contact Your Doctor

There are some common warning signs that may signal your condition is getting worse. Contact your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Sudden weight gain
  • Shortness of breath that wakes you up at night, is present at rest, or is increased with exertion
  • Increased swelling in the limbs, legs, or ankles
  • Swelling in the abdomen, lack of appetite, or nausea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Frequent dry, hacking cough
  • Increased fatigue

Remember, it is important to keep in touch with your care team. Go to all scheduled appointments.

REFERENCES:

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Cabo J, Alonso R, Mata P. Omega-3 fatty acids and blood pressure. Br J Nutr. 2012;107 Suppl 2:S195-S200.

Goldenberg I, Jonas M, Tenenbaum A, et al. Current smoking, smoking cessation, and the risk of sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary artery disease. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(19):2301-2305.

Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114099/Heart-failure-with-reduced-ejection-fraction. Updated September 1, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.

Heart failure: Exercise. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/heart-failure-exercise. Accessed September 15, 2017.

How is heart failure treated? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf/treatment. Updated June 22, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2017.

Lifestyle changes for heart failure. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/PreventionTreatmentofHeartFailure/Lifestyle-Changes-for-Heart-Failure_UCM_306341_Article.jsp#.WbwYdrKGNxA. Updated May 9, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.

Medicare/Joint Commission National Hospital Inpatient Quality Measures. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T474229/Medicare-Joint-Commission-National-Hospital-Inpatient-Quality-Measures. Updated Febrauary 13, 2014. Accessed September 15, 2017.

Paterna S, Parrinello G, Cannizzaro S, et al. Medium term effects of different dosage of diuretic, sodium, and fluid administration on neurohormonal and clinical outcome in patients with recently compensated heart failure. Am J Cardiol. 2009;103(1):93-102.

Physical changes to report for heart failure. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/PreventionTreatmentofHeartFailure/Physical-Changes-to-Report_UCM_306356_Article.jsp. Updated May 9, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.

Physician quality reporting system. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T199391/Physician-Quality-Reporting-System-Quality-Measures. Updated August 19, 2014. Accessed September 15, 2017.

What is cardiac rehabilitation? American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiacRehab/What-is-Cardiac-Rehabilitation_UCM_307049_Article.jsp#.WbwZeLKGNxA. Updated November 9, 2016. Accessed September 15, 2017.

4/16/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114099/Heart-failure-with-reduced-ejection-fraction: Nilsson BB, Westheim A, Risberg MA. Effects of group-based high-intensity aerobic interval training in patients with chronic heart failure. Am J Cardiol. 2008;102(10):1361-1365.

4/5/2012 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114099/Heart-failure-with-reduced-ejection-fraction: Levine GN, Steinke EE, Bakaeen FG, et al. Sexual activity and cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2012;125(8):1058-1072.

Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC  Last Updated: 7/12/2018