10 Ways to Lower Your Risk of Heart Failure

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 08, 2021

Some easy tweaks to your lifestyle can go a long way to help you cut your chance of heart failure, a condition that keeps your heart from pumping right. And as an added bonus, those new habits -- like exercise and eating well -- are good for your heart health in general.

1.Stay Active

It's never too late to think about starting up an exercise routine. One study shows that middle-aged men and women who weren't fit could still reduce their odds of heart failure if they took steps to improve their fitness.

Check with your doctor before you get started. Try for at least 2 1/2 hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise -- the kind that gets your heart pumping. If you prefer, you can do 1 1/4 hours of more intense activity.

2.Don't Just Sit There

Even if you do exercise, especially if you're a man, your risk for heart failure may go up if you sit around a lot. In one study, men who sat for 5 hours or more a day outside of work, even those who exercised, were more likely to get heart failure than those who limited their couch potato time to 2 hours or less. So look for ways to keep yourself moving the next time you're about to reach for the TV remote.

3.Don't Use Illegal Drugs

Even occasional use of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and ecstasy can harm your heart. It can make your heart rate and blood pressure go up. It may also lead to hardening of your arteries. All these problems raise your risk of heart failure.

4.Treat Heart and Other Conditions

Other heart problems, like heart attacks, increase your chances of getting heart failure. So take care of your ticker. Treat your high blood pressure and take any medication your doctor prescribes to lower your cholesterol levels. If you have trouble taking your medicines as prescribed, talk to your doctor right away.

5.Don't Smoke

If you have the tobacco habit, quit. Ask your doctor for advice on ways to stop. Smoking damages your arteries, which can start you down the road to heart failure. While you're at it, stay away from smoky rooms, since secondhand smoke is harmful as well. 

6.Eat Right

Good nutrition is important if you want to prevent heart failure. Limit saturated fats, trans fats, extra sugar, and salt in your diet. Instead, go for fruits and veggies, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein. Also choose "good fats" in olive oil, walnuts, avocados, and fish like salmon or tuna. 

7.Limit Alcohol

While a little alcohol can be good for your heart, a lot is not. If you're a man, stick to no more than 2 drinks a day (a 5-ounce glass of wine equals 1 drink). Women should only have 1 drink a day.

Drinking too much also adds calories. And if you already have heart failure, alcohol can make it worse.

8.Lose Weight if You Need To

Another important way to prevent heart failure is to stick to a healthy weight. Aim for a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. And pay particular attention to belly fat, which can increase your risk of heart disease even more than fat on other parts of your body. Even a small weight loss can add up to big gains in your health.

9.Manage Stress

It can raise your blood pressure. Try to keep yourself on an even keel with meditation, counseling, or yoga. 

10.Get a Good Night's Sleep

A long-term sleep problem can raise your chance of heart failure. One study found that men ages 40 to 70 with sleep apnea, which is when your breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you're asleep, were 58% more likely to get heart failure.

Some ways to get better sleep:

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol, especially before bed.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Don't use your smartphone while you're in bed.
  • Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even weekends.
  • Ask your doctor about a CPAP device to treat sleep apnea.


Show Sources


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "How Can Heart Failure Be Prevented?" "Physical Activity," "Quitting Smoking," "Heart-healthy eating," "Aiming for a Healthy Weight," "Managing stress."

American Heart Association Go Red For Women: "Middle-Age Fitness: Reduce Heart Failure Risk."

Pandey, A. American Heart Journal, February 2015.

American Heart Association: "Exercising more, sitting less helps men prevent heart failure," "Alcohol and Heart Health," "Illegal Drugs and Heart Disease," "Causes of Heart Failure."

NIH Senior Health: "Heart Failure."

Young, D.R., Circulation: Heart Failure, January 2014.

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Congestive Heart Failure: Prevention, Treatment and Research."

American Thoracic Society: "Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease."

Gottlieb, D.J. Circulation, July 27, 2010.

Harvard Medical School: "Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep."

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