Aging & Health A to Z
Lifestyle & Management
If you have heart failure, you can be physically active and take positive steps to help manage your symptoms and keep your condition from becoming more serious.
Making Changes to Your Diet
You may need to reduce the salt (sodium) in your diet and lose weight, if you are overweight.
Eat a Low-Salt Diet
Your body needs some salt to function properly, but most of us consume much more salt than we need. Because salt attracts and holds water, a low-salt diet helps to reduce the amount of fluid that builds up in your blood, heart, lungs, legs, and feet.
Your healthcare professional may recommend that you meet with a nutritionist to plan a low-salt diet.
Here are a few low-salt diet tips:
- Avoid salty snack foods such as chips, pretzels, and salted nuts.
- Avoid prepared, canned, and fast foods, as well as bakery and deli items, which are all high in salt.
- Read the labels to see how much salt prepared foods contain, and buy “low sodium” products.
- Try to cook your own meals as much as possible, so you can control the amount of salt in your food.
- Take the salt shaker off your table and choose low-sodium ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and other condiments. Since sodium content varies widely, read the labels before you buy.
- Spice up your food with pepper and other spices, herbs, and lemon or orange juice or zest.
- When you eat out, order salads, steamed vegetables, grilled poultry or fish, and avoid dressings and sauces.
- Use unsalted, soft margarine (harder margarines are higher in saturated fat).
Watch Your Weight
If you have heart failure, weigh yourself daily and record your weight every day. Call your healthcare professional if you gain more than two pounds in one day. Such quick weight gain is usually a sign of fluid buildup, and you may need to adjust your medications to rid your body of extra fluid.
If you’re overweight, you can also improve your heart failure by losing weight. A nutritionist can help you plan a weight loss program that works for you.
Hint: Many of the suggestions for following a low-salt diet apply to weight loss, too.
These tips can also help you shed a few pounds:
- Make small changes to your diet, and don’t try to lose weight too quickly—small changes are easier to stick with. Set reasonable weight loss goals (not more than 1 to 2 pounds per week).
- Avoid high calorie snack foods and fast foods.
- Reduce the amount of sugar you consume by cutting down on desserts. Avoid all sugary drinks, such as soda and fruity beverages.
- Do you eat when you’re bored? If so, try enjoyable activities to keep you engaged, such as knitting, drawing, gardening, or other hobbies.
- If you are a fast eater, slow down. It takes about 20 minutes for the message to get to your brain that you’ve had enough to eat.
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce the amount of fat in your diet.
- Use an unsalted soft margarine made of vegetable fat, instead of butter.
- Moderate your alcohol intake.
- Match your food and calorie intake with your level of activity.
Heart failure doesn’t mean you should stop exercising, even if you do tire more easily or become short-of-breath. In fact, it’s important for people with heart failure to remain as fit as they can. Your healthcare provider will help you plan an exercise program that’s safe for you and that will help strengthen your heart and regulate your heart rate. This will help keep your heart failure from becoming more serious.
People with more serious heart failure can exercise in a cardiac rehabilitation center under the supervision of a trained exercise therapist.
Quit Smoking and Drink Cautiously
Smoking damages your blood vessels. If you have heart failure and still smoke, try to quit as soon as possible. There are many helpful programs to help you break the habit.
Drinking alcohol can have a direct toxic effect on the heart. Heavy drinking over time damages the heart and leads to high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. If you drink, talk with your healthcare provider about cutting down or stopping.
Avoid Certain Non-prescription Drugs and Herbal Remedies
Medications that you can buy without a prescription can cause fluid buildup and can make your heart failure worse. Avoid the following over-the-counter medicines and herbal remedies:
- Sodium-based antacids such as sodium bicarbonate
- High doses of aspirin
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen (eg, Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (eg, Aleve, Naprosyn)
- Ginseng (may aggravate high blood pressure)
- Ginkgo biloba (may contribute to bleeding).
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012