8 Healthy Habits for Living with Heart Failure

Cutting out salt and stepping on the scale can go a long way toward managing heart failure symptoms.

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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.