Feeling Well Long-Term

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Find answers to your questions about heart failure.

Heart Healthy Exercise and Lifestyle Changes

If you have heart failure, building your strength to stay strong and healthy—both physically and mentally—may put you in a better position to feel well for the long-term. This can mean increasing your physical activity, exercising, making some changes to your diet and surrounding yourself with people who support you. Ask your doctor what he or she recommends for you.

Getting active

Increasing your physical activity, which can include exercising more often, is an important part of leading a healthy life. When you have an implantable device, it is important to consult with your doctor about your condition, including: 

  • What kind of exercise you should do and should not do
  • How much exercise you should do
  • When is the best time for you to exercise

In general, consider heart-healthy exercise that you can begin slowly and gently and increase over time. This will help condition your heart so it pumps more effectively. 

Some great ways to get fit, build endurance and strengthen your heart safely without much expense to you include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Biking
  • Swimming (except if you have an LVAD, in which case you should not swim because your device may not be immersed in water)

Heart healthy exercise tips

As you settle into an exercise routine, consider these tips:

  • Pace yourself and increase activity over time. Give your body a chance to rest as you gradually build your strength. 
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercising to stay hydrated.
  • Avoid exercising in extreme conditions like excessive cold, heat or humidity. On hot or cold days, consider walking in a mall rather than outdoors.
  • Take moderately warm showers and stay out of hot saunas after exercising to avoid putting added stress on your heart. 
  • Be patient. Your routine is likely to be interrupted sometimes, and when it does, just ease back into it. 
  • Monitor your heart rate as you do your heart-healthy exercise to keep track of your exertion level and learn how hard your heart is working.

Be sure to speak with your doctor before you start any exercise program, and make sure to consult with him or her if you experience any problems or if you change your level or kind of exercise.

Heart healthy eating

The foods that you put into your body have a direct influence on how you feel and the energy level you have. To help you heal and stay healthy, consider adopting an eating plan that follows these tips. 

Try to include: 

  • Fresh fruits 
  • Fresh vegetables 
  • Whole grains 
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and fat-free or low-fat milk products. 
  • Foods rich in complex carbohydrates such as wheat pasta, sweet potatoes and whole-grain breads 

Try to avoid: 

  • Processed foods, such as chips, sugary cereals and canned foods 
  • Salt 

Also, consider grilling, microwaving or baking foods rather than frying them to keep the nutrition without adding extra oil or fat. In addition, make sure not to skip meals; five to six small meals throughout the day help burn fat calories more efficiently than cutting out meals. This also helps you maintain your energy and regulate your cholesterol.

Always consult with your doctor when making any changes to your diet.

Get more tips about healthy eating from the American Heart Association.

Reaching out and staying connected

Receiving treatment for heart failure can be life changing. As you continue to heal and live with your treatment, you may benefit from:

  • Listening to the stories of others who have had similar experiences, and sharing your stories with them. 
  • Letting family and friends know how you are doing and what they can do to help.

As you progress in your recovery, consider these tips:

  • Ask your medical team, hospital or clinic about patient support groups that you can join.
  • Consider volunteering with groups that help others learn about heart failure.
  • Give frequent updates to your friends and family; some may be curious, and others will want to help. Some may not know how to react—health concerns can raise confusing emotions. Know that even if they cannot express themselves in the way you want, they likely want to hear from you and support you.
  • Be sure to communicate if you have problems with your medications, activities or health; talk to your doctor right away if you notice a change in your health or have concerns.