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Lifestyle modifications for people with heart failure

Last Modified: February 14, 2020

Heart Health

Heart Failure

This content was provided by the team of registered dietitians at the Parkview Heart Institute.

Heart failure is a chronic (lifelong) condition in which the heart muscle isn’t able to pump enough blood through the heart to meet the body’s need for blood and oxygen. The heart can’t keep up with its workload.

When heart failure reduces the heart’s pumping function, quick medical attention is required. As blood flow slows out of the heart, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up. This causes congestion in the body’s tissues. Sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, especially when lying down.

7 lifestyle changes for heart failure
  • Cut the salt – Too much sodium in the diet contributes to fluid retention, causing the compromised heart muscle to work harder. Read food labels and aim for 2,000 milligrams or less per day.
  • Watch your fluids – Too much fluid intake can cause the heart to work hard to pump the excess fluid volume. This can worsen your heart failure and cause shortness of breath, weight gain, swelling of the feet and/or legs and may cause a bloated feeling. Limit your daily fluid intake to two liters (64 ounces) of fluid.
  • Stay active – You need regular physical activity as much as anyone else. Regular, moderately vigorous physical activity can actually help your heart get stronger.
  • Cut back on alcohol – Alcohol is discouraged. It can weaken the heart muscle and increase risk for abnormal heart rhythms. Alcohol may also interact with heart medications.
  • Stop smoking – If you smoke, you can remove a major source of damage to the heart by quitting.
  • Maintain a healthy weight or lose excess weight – Extra weight makes your heart work harder to pump blood through your body. Losing just 10 pounds can make a big difference.
  • Reduce stress and sleep well – Rest times are essential as they give your heart a chance to pump more easily. It’s important to work to manage stress as it makes the heart work harder and can make symptoms worse.

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