Cutting out salt and stepping on the scale can go a long way toward managing heart failure symptoms.
Heart failure can definitely be a scary diagnosis. After all, we all know the crucial role the heart plays in the body. But heart failure doesn’t mean your body is in imminent danger, especially if you work with your cardiologist to identify the reasons your heart muscle is weak and take steps to treat those issues.
In many cases, you can manage or even reverse heart failure for a healthier heart and a better quality of life. In this video, cardiologist Dennis A. Goodman, MD, has 8 healthy habits for heart failure patients that can have a significant impact.
Monitor your salt intake. You should keep your sodium consumption to under 2 grams a day. Some heart failure patients might even be advised to consume much less. FYI, that’s just under a teaspoon worth of salt. It's simple to skip the extra pinch of salt you add to dinner, but here’s the thing: The vast majority of your sodium comes from all the salt hidden in processed foods. Anything that comes in a box, can, or freezer aisle is likely to be loaded with sodium, which means your best bet is to avoid these items and stick with whole foods.
Watch your fluid intake. Too much water and other fluids can burden the heart if you have heart failure. Dr. Goodman recommends no more than two liters of water (including coffee or tea), which is more than most people drink on an average day anyway. Keep yourself hydrated, but keep it under two liters if you have heart failure.
Weigh yourself daily. It is useful to be aware of any drops or spikes in weight, which could indicate your heart failure is not as in control as your doctor would like. If your weight goes up or down by more than three pounds, notify your physician.
Exercise 20 minutes a day. You might think this activity will hurt the heart if you have heart failure, but some low-intensity physical activity can help, as long as your doctor approves of your heart failure exercise plan. If you need help getting started, try this low-intensity yoga routine for beginners or these simple strength-training moves that anyone can do. If workout routines aren’t your thing, try walking with a friend (human or canine!) or gardening.
Get to an ideal body weight. Yeah, that’s easier said than done, but totally possible. Carrying extra weight means the heart has to work harder. This extra strain is especially challenging for patients with heart failure. Eating fewer processed foods and adding in more exercise will already help with this, and you can also try eating leaner proteins like beans, tofu, and fish to lower calories and saturated fat in your daily meals.
Quit smoking. Cigarette smoke hardens the arteries and makes it more difficult for your heart to circulate oxygen-rich blood. (Here’s more ways that smoking affects the body, and here are strategies to quit smoking for good.)
Take your medication as prescribed. Don’t stop taking any heart failure medication without first speaking to your doctor.
See a physician, such as a cardiologist who’s treated patients like you. This is especially important for patients with more advanced heart failure.
Following these guidelines can greatly improve your quality of life, potentially even reversing your heart failure symptoms.
Dr. Goodman is board-certified in cardiology, internal medicine, lipidology, integrative medicine, and cardiac CT. He is the director of integrative medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center and a clinical professor of medicine at NYU.
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The best advice that I can give someone
who has been diagnosed with heart
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failure is, number one,
watch your salt intake.
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Keep it down to two grams a day,
just as a general rule.
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You wanna avoid things
that are very salty.
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tinned foods, canned foods.
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Look on the label.
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You don't want stuff with more
that 400 milligrams in salt in it.
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Watch your fluid intake.
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The more fluid you've got on board,
the harder it is for the heart to pump.
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We recommend less than
two liters of fluid.
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That counts all the liquids you take in.
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If you're having coffee, that counts.
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I tell patients to weigh
themselves every single day.
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We like to know what is
your baseline weight.
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Because what happens is, many patients
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actually start putting on weight
before they get a real decompensation.
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And we say that if it goes up or
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down more than three pounds,
four pounds, you notify your physician.
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20 minutes a day of walking.
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Exercise is very, very important.
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People sometimes think,
I shouldn't exercise, I can't exercise.
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I'm gonna hurt my heart, it's not true.
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You're gonna help you
heart to do some activity.
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It's a question of how
much can you tolerate?
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That's why it's so
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important to have a physician that
will tell you what you can safely do.
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Studies have shown for patients who
have heart failure, if you can do 20
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minutes a day, 150 minutes a week,
there's significant improvement.
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Get yourself down to an ideal body weight.
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If you've got a lot of body fat,
you're asking it to work harder.
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And you can just think about it as,
if you're walking up a hill and
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now you put a sack of
potatoes on your back,
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you're gonna get short of breath
a lot quicker, anybody would.
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But if you've got a weak heart, and
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you think of this body fat, whatever
the weight of the sack of potatoes,
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that's how much extra your
pumping heart has to work.
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The biggest problems for the heart are
pumping against arteries that are stiff or
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that are narrow, smoking makes it worse.
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And also, smoking of course,
affects your lungs.
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You need the lungs for oxygen to come
into your body in the first place.
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But if you're damaging your lungs,
then you've got two problems.
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You're not getting oxygen,
cuz the lungs are damaged.
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And then your heart's not pumping
the oxygen that you do have,
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cuz it's not pumping and working properly.
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Make sure that you take your
medications as prescribed, and
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make sure you've seen a physician or
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a caregiver that has experience in
treating patients with heart failure.
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We can make a huge difference,
if you do these things.
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And so, I try to get them committed to
thinking about these lifestyle changes.
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Send them to a nutritionist
to talk about sodium,
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then we talk about their exercise and
send them to cardiac rehab.
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I have seen people who truly
are better than they ever were,
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because it was the impetus for change.
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