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.