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Heart Failure Health Center

Manage Heart Failure With Lifestyle

Having heart failure can leave you feeling out control. But through diet, exercise, and self-monitoring you can make a real difference in both your symptoms and your outlook.
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Eating Well continued...

A deficiency in protein can lead to unhealthy weight loss and muscle wasting, which are serious -- and often underestimated -- symptoms of heart failure. For example, in one study testing implanted left ventricular assist devices -- machines that increase the pumping power of the heart -- one of the most common and somewhat unexpected complications after surgery was the result of preexisting nutritional problems.

"Heart-failure patients seem to be nutritionally out of balance," says John Watson, MD, director of the clinical and molecular medicine program in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Division of Heart and Vascular Diseases. Watson believes nutrition is an important issue to address, especially for those about to undergo major surgery.

"I think that we need to be looking at a bigger picture of adequate nutrition and there's still a lot we don't know," says Bennett. For now, she recommends a diet that restricts sodium but also follows basic nutritional advice. You should talk with your doctor, nurse, or dietitian about what sort of diet and sodium restrictions make sense in your case.

Exercising Regularly

Given the weakness that many people with heart failure experience, which can even make moving across a room exhausting, the idea of exercise may seem ludicrous. "We used to tell people with heart failure to just rest," says Bennett, "but now we know that in many conditions, you're probably healthier if you get a little exercise."

Indeed, a recent statement from the American Heart Association, based on a review of the medical literature, indicated that exercise seems to be beneficial for heart failure patients, even for those with advanced forms of the disease.

Of course, anyone with heart failure absolutely must check with a doctor before undertaking an exercise plan. But all sorts of aerobic activity -- walking, biking, and swimming, for instance -- appear to be beneficial in many cases. Exercise improves the condition of blood vessels and lowers the levels of harmful hormones in the bloodstream.

Exercise also makes people feel better, it improves heart-failure symptoms, and it makes it easier to do normal, everyday physical tasks that can become difficult in advanced stages of heart failure. The American Heart Association recommends 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three to five days a week; people with advanced heart failure may need longer warm-up periods.

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