Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

People living with heart failure can take many simple steps to help themselves feel better and control their condition.


Fish is lower in saturated fat and can be part of a heart-healthy diet.

A diet that is low in salt, fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can help prevent or control heart failure.

Salt can make the body retain fluid. This forces the heart to work harder and can make heart failure worse.

Staying close to family members can help you live successfully with heart failure.

Fat and saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol levels.

Trans fat lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol and raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. LDL is often called “bad” cholesterol because too much of it can lead to buildup of cholesterol and blockage of the arteries. HDL is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol and prevents its buildup in the arteries.

Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance found in the body’s cells. A certain amount is needed for body functioning, but too much cholesterol can cause heart disease, which can lead to heart failure. About one third of blood cholesterol comes from food.

See complete guidelines for a healthy diet.


Medicines used to treat heart failure include ACE inhibitors (these lower blood pressure), aldosterone antagonists (help body excrete salt and water through urine), angiotensin receptor blockers (relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure), beta blockers (slow heart rate and lower blood pressure), digoxin (strengthens heartbeat), diuretics (help reduce fluid build-up), isosorbide dinitrate/hydralazine hydrochloride (helps relax blood vessels—approved by the FDA for use in African Americans), and vasodilators (open up arteries).

Medicine can help you feel better, but can be useless or even harmful if taken incorrectly. Some tips for managing medicines are:

  • Ask your doctor what medicines are for and when they should be taken.
  • Check the label to ensure you are taking the right one and have the correct dose.
  • Don’t take medicine in the dark, which makes it easy to make a mistake.
  • Tell your doctor what other prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines you take.
  • Ask your doctor what to do if you miss a dose. Never take a larger dose the next time without consulting your doctor.
  • Report any new side effects.
  • Always carry a list of your medicines with you. This is helpful to health-care professionals in an emergency.
  • Keep a written record of your prescriptions, vitamins and over-the-counter drugs. This will help you remember to take them on schedule.
  • Even if you are feeling better, continue taking your medicine. Don’t stop without talking to your doctor first.


Exercise increases your energy level and strengthens your heart and body.

Exercise has been shown to have many benefits for people with heart failure. Exercise can strengthen your heart and body, increase your energy level, help you cope with stress and give you a brighter outlook.

Always consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. He or she may give you an exercise test or refer you to a cardiac rehabilitation program. Your exercise program may include aerobic activities such as:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Low-impact or water aerobics

As with medications, it is a good idea to ask your doctor or health-care provider questions about your exercise program such as whether there are some activities you shouldn’t do and whether you should check your pulse.

Stop exercising and call your doctor if you feel:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Burning, tightness, heaviness or pressure in your chest
  • Unusual aching in your arm, shoulders, jaw or back
  • Trouble catching your breath
  • A racing or skipping heart
  • Extreme tiredness after exercising
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness or nausea

Reducing stress

Spending time doing things you enjoy can reduce stress.

Talk to your doctor or health-care provider about ways to reduce stress. This may include meditation, breathing techniques, biofeedback, massage or support groups.

Try not to withdraw from your family and friends — they can be a good source of support. Also, spend some time doing things you enjoy. This may include a favorite hobby, meditating or praying.

Volunteer activities, classes and exercise also are good stress-reducing activities.

Maintaining a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other problems. Talk to your doctor about the best weight for you, and — if you are overweight — ask about a diet and exercise plan that can help you lose weight.

You also need to monitor your weight. In people with heart failure, weight gain also can be a sign of fluid retention (from eating too much sodium) or an indication their condition is getting worse.

Sexual activity

It’s normal to be concerned about how much your heart can handle. Talk to your health-care provider about when you can resume sexual activity — and talk openly with your partner, too. Resuming sexual activity should be a positive step, not a stressful one.