Living With Heart Failure

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on June 30, 2023
5 min read

By making lifestyle changes, you can take an active role in treating your heart failure while maintaining a productive life. This article addresses many lifestyle questions you may have and offers tips that should make performing daily activities easier.

You can resume your regular activities as soon as you feel better, but follow your doctor's guidelines. Increase your activities slowly, and always listen to your body so you know when it's time to take a rest break.

Exercise in a cardiac rehabilitation facility can help strengthen your heart and increase your stamina.  The earlier you start,  the more help the program will be in helping you understand your stamina.

If you have been in the hospital for your heart failure, your doctor will tell you how soon you can return to work after you go home. Your return to work will be based on your overall health, symptoms, and your rate of recovery.

You should try to work as long as you are able. If you have a job that requires a lot of physical work, you may need to change some of your job-related activities. This may involve job re-training or taking disability.

Talk to your doctor about the type of job you have. Your doctor can help you decide if your job will affect your heart condition and if you need to make changes.

The following tips should make your transition back to work easier.

  • Plan periods of rest. Be sure to get plenty of rest. You may need to plan at least one rest period every day. When you rest, keep your feet up to keep the swelling in your legs down.
  • Conserve your energy. Using less energy with daily tasks can help you have more energy to do more activities during the day. You may need to cut down on some of your activities or use energy-saving devices or techniques. If daily self care or home care activities are too tiring, tell your doctor.
  • Simplify your tasks and set realistic goals. Don't think you have to do things the same way you've always done them.
  • Plan your activities ahead of time. Do not schedule too many activities to do in one day. Do the things that take more energy when you are feeling your best. If needed, rest before and after activities. If you become tired during an activity, stop and rest. You may need to finish it on another day or when you feel less tired. Also, do not plan activities right after a meal.
  • Get a good night's sleep. Be careful not to nap too much during the day or you might not be able to sleep at night.
  • Ask for help. Divide the tasks among family and friends.
  • If needed, use devices and tools that assist you, such as a walker, shower chair, hand-held shower head, bedside toilet, or long-handled tools for dressing (such as a shoe horn).
  • Wear clothes that have zippers and buttons in the front so you don't have to reach behind you.
  • Do all of your grooming (shaving, drying your hair, etc.) while sitting.
  • If your doctor says it's OK, you may climb steps. You may need to rest part of the way if you become tired. Try to arrange your activities so you do not have to climb up and down stairs many times during the day.
  • Avoid extreme physical activity. Do not push, pull, or lift heavy objects (more than 10 pounds).
  • For more energy-saving tips, tell your doctor you would like to speak to an occupational therapist or cardiac rehabilitation specialist. Sometimes, cardiac rehabilitation can help increase your energy levels and help you get your strength back.

You may travel as soon as you are feeling better, but always let your doctor know when you plan to go and provide a phone number where you can be reached.

By following these traveling tips, your vacation will be more enjoyable:

  • Always take all of your medications with you and make sure you have enough medications to last throughout your trip.
  • If you are traveling by plane, carry your medications with you. Never check them with your luggage. You may need a letter from your doctor that verifies all of your medications, especially if you are traveling internationally. Pack this letter with your drugs.
  • Always wear your Emergency Medical Identification.
  • Make sure you have your doctor's phone number.
  • Be careful to avoid infection when traveling. In areas where the water might be unsafe, drink bottled water or other beverages (order beverages without ice). Swim only in chlorinated pools.
  • Select food with care to avoid illness.

Your diagnosis of heart failure, your symptoms, and your concern for the future may cause you and your loved ones to feel depressed or worried. Your concerns are normal. As you begin taking charge of your health and making positive changes, you may find these feelings start to fade. However, if negative feelings continue and interfere with your ability to enjoy life, talk to your doctor. Counseling might help you feel better.

Here are some tips to help you deal with emotional blues:

  • Get dressed every day.
  • Get out and walk every day.
  • Keep up with activities or hobbies you enjoy.
  • Share your feelings with your spouse, therapist, friend, or clergy person.
  • Get a good night's sleep.
  • Follow your treatment plan.
  • Set and follow a realistic daily schedule.
  • Join a support group or even cardiac rehab.

Heart failure can affect all aspects of your life, including having the energy, desire, or ability to participate in sexual intercourse. Here are some tips to help you and your loved one deal with the physical and emotional challenges of sexual relationships:

  • Talk openly with your partner.
  • Find different ways to show affection.
  • Have sex when you are rested and physically comfortable.
  • Have realistic performance expectations. You may need to modify your sexual practices to decrease the energy required.
  • Be caring, loving, and honest with each other.
  • Your medications may affect arousal and sexual performance. Talk to your doctor about your concerns.