Heart failure (HF) is a long-term condition that may worsen gradually. Though it can occur to anyone, older people are more at risk of HF.1 Doctors commonly advise people with HF to make some positive lifestyle changes that help them to manage the condition1 by slowing the progression and controlling the symptoms.
What is heart failure?
When the heart lacks the capacity to pump enough blood that can meet the body’s demands it affects either one side of the heart or both sides. This does not mean that the heart has stopped, but just that the heart does not pump the blood in its full capacity2.
The weakening of the heart’s activity may cause the following symptoms2:
- Blood and fluid backup in lungs
- Fluid accumulation (oedema) in the feet, ankles and legs
- Shortness of breath
What are the causes of heart failure?
Heart failure is often the last stage of another heart condition.
The conditions that may cause HF are as follows3:
- Coronary artery disease (blockages in the artery)
- Disorders of heart valves
- High blood pressure
- Congenital heart disorders
- Irregular heart rate
- Cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease)
- Heart attack
- Lung disease
- Exposure to toxins such as excessive alcohol
Can lifestyle changes benefit people with heart failure?
Studies have found that lifestyle factors such as poor diet, obesity and lack of physical activity contribute to the early onset of HF. Several studies prove that lifestyle management can help to prevent and control HF.4
The following useful tips can help you be healthy if you have HF4,5:
- Quit smoking: Cigarette smoke contains nicotine, which raises blood pressure and heart rate. Smoking also leads to sticky deposits in the blood vessels. Quitting smoking can benefit heart health.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Maintain a healthy weight that is ideal for you. This is one of the ways in which you can reduce the risks of diabetes and heart conditions significantly.
- Keep a watch on your fluid intake: People with HF have a tendency to retain fluid in the body. Therefore, it is necessary to monitor fluid intake. Your doctor can help you find out the recommended quantity of fluid for you to prevent fluid retention.
- Avoid alcohol: Discuss with your doctor about alcohol consumption. Even if you get a nod from the doctor, it would be better if you moderate your alcohol intake to the minimum.
- Avoid caffeine: Restrict your caffeine intake if you have HF.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet: Avoid trans-fats, saturated fats (dairy products like butter, whole milk, and even cookies and crackers), red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets. Restrict your sodium intake. Include fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts in your diet. Studies have shown that these dietary changes may prevent HF.4
- Be physically active: Make physical activity a daily part of your routine. Discuss a fitness regime that is tailored to your needs with your doctors and physical therapists. Though exercise training such as walking, muscle and strength training is found to be beneficial, remember that it is always best to get the doctor’s advice and opinion before practising these activities on your own.
- Manage your stress: Studies show that yoga, breathing exercises and meditation are beneficial in managing HF. It reduces stress through a reduction in the inflammatory process and improves exercise capacity. Chant-based meditation techniques help to manage anxiety and depression in people with HF. Tai-chi can also improve the quality of life in people with HF.
- Supplements might help: Talk to your doctor and get supplements such as antioxidants and vitamin supplements based on the advice of your physician.
Track your symptoms with regular check-ups, take medicines regularly, maintain blood pressure and follow guidelines related to sexual activity for people with HF. Discuss with your doctor if getting vaccinated against flu might help you as flu might put an extra burden on the working of your heart. These changes in your routine can make a good impact on the quality of your life5. Make healthy lifestyle changes; choose to live a healthy life even if you have HF!
- NHS. Heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2018 Oct 26; cited 2019 Dec 24]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-failure/.
- MedlinePlus. Heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2019 Dec 13; cited 2019 Dec 24]. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/heartfailure.html.
- Harvard Medical School. Heart failure [Internet]. [cited 2019 Dec 24]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/heart-failure-a-to-z.
- Aggarwal M, Bozkurt B, Panjrath G, Aggarwal B, Ostfeld RJ, Barnard ND, et al. Lifestyle Modifications for Preventing and Treating Heart Failure. Journal of the American College of Cardiology [Internet]. 2018 Nov [cited 2020 Jan 21];72(19):2391–405. Available from: http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/72/19/2391
- American Heart Association. Lifestyle changes for heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2019 Dec 24]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/treatment-options-for-heart-failure/lifestyle-changes-for-heart-failure.