A healthy diet and exercise program is a good idea for most people. Even if you have heart failure. Emory Advanced Heart Failure Therapy Center can help you take control of your heart failure symptoms and make these part of your care plan.
Exercise Can Ease Heart Failure Symptoms
When your heart failure is under control, you can be more active. Exercise can strengthen your heart, ease heart failure symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Talk to your doctor or nurse before you start or change an exercise program. Ask for an exercise prescription with specific instructions about how often, how long and how hard you can exercise (the frequency, duration and intensity). Your doctor may order an exercise test to make sure you’re ready to go back to work or activities.
Get More Active Every Day
Slowly add physical activity into your daily routine. Do some household chores. Garden. Walk the aisles at the grocery store. Park your car a few spots farther away from the entrance. You decide how long and at what pace to do or ramp up these activities.
Pace yourself so you don't get extremely fatigued or short of breath.
Stop and rest if have angina symptoms (pain in chest, back, arms, shoulders or jaw), tiredness, or shortness of breath.
Be active with a relative or friend and, if possible, carry a cell phone for emergencies.
Note how you feel during normal activities like getting dressed or walking around your home. Tell your doctor if you feel extremely tired or short of breath during or after exercise, and if it doesn’t improve with rest.
Start an Exercise Program
Start with a simple activity approved by your healthcare provider. Examples include walking, swimming or riding a stationary bicycle.
Here are a few tips:
- Start at a comfortable pace for 5-15 minutes.
- Increase or decrease the intensity based on how you feel.
- Every week or two, gradually increase the duration and intensity of your exercise.
- Take rest breaks as needed.
- Always walk on a flat surface in moderate temperatures.
- Wear comfortable clothes.
- Exercise with a friend or relative until you are comfortable exercising alone.
- Check your exercise intensity: you should be able to talk in complete sentences while exercising. If you can’t, ease up.
Stop exercising if you develop any of these symptoms:
- Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing)
- Weakness of fatigue (feeling overly tired)
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Chest pain or tightness or discomfort in your back, jaw, neck, shoulders or arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Racing heart beat
Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
If you have heart failure, eating nutritiously can help you feel your best. Limit salt (sodium) and fluids to help control heart failure symptoms. Read food labels to see if they fit your low-salt diet plan.
Most people with heart failure should limit sodium to less than 2,000 mg a day to control heart failure symptoms.
Find low-salt food swaps.
Reduced Sodium vs. Low Sodium
The “reduced salt” label identifies a food with sodium content reduced by more than 25%. That doesn't always mean it qualifies as low in sodium.
Herbs and spices contain trace amounts of sodium, which is of little concern.
Heart failure medicines and fluid restrictions can leave you feeling thirsty. Even if you’re thirsty, don’t drink more than your doctor recommends. Instead, suck on frozen lemon wedges or ice to quench your thirst. Small amounts of hard sugar-free candy may help with a dry mouth.
Your doctor may restrict your fluid intake to 2 quarts (64 ounces) of fluid per day (or less in some cases). This applies to beverages, high-moisture fruits, yogurt, pudding, ice cream, ice cubes and any food that melts into a liquid. Chilled beverages may help you drink less. Try to drink only when you’re thirsty.
Keep Tabs on Potassium
If you take diuretics, your doctor will watch your potassium level. You'll have blood tests several times a year to check it. If your potassium level is too low, you could be at risk for life-threatening arrhythmias (irregular heart beats). If your potassium is low, your doctor may adjust your medicines.
You can add more potassium-rich foods to your diet to help. These foods are good sources, with more than 300 mg of potassium per serving:
- Bananas, cantaloupes, peaches, orange juice
- Potatoes, avocados, lima beans, tomatoes
- Salmon, flounder, cod
- Chicken, meat
Alcohol weakens your heart muscle. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can enlarge your heart. Your doctor may tell you to limit alcohol — or to stop drinking it at all. Ask your doctor if you should limit or avoid alcohol.