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Reducing Your Risk of Heart Failure

If you are at risk of developing heart failure, you can take steps to prevent it by adhering to the following recommended lifestyle guidelines:

  • Aim for a Healthy Weight
  • Discontinue or Avoid Smoking
  • Eat a Healthful Diet
  • Maintain Normal Blood Pressure
  • Decrease or Discontinue Alcohol Consumption
  • Exercise Regularly

Excess weight can put a strain on the heart muscle, which can eventually lead to heart failure. If you are overweight, talk with your doctor about how you can adopt a sensible eating plan that will enable you to lose weight gradually and maintain your weight at the desired level.

Consider consulting with a dietitian who can help you with meal planning and portion sizing.

Smoking immediately increases your heart rate and blood pressure, while reducing oxygen circulation. This adds extra strain on your heart. Talk with your doctor about the best ways to help you quit . Avoid secondhand smoke when possible. Quitting smoking reduces your heart rate and blood pressure within minutes.

Making dietary changes can help to lower your risk of heart failure. Dietary changes include eating more whole grains , fruits and vegetables , and nuts. It also includes substituting bad fats for good fats . This means eating more mono- or polyunsaturated fats, and less saturated and trans fats. Bad fats raise your cholesterol levels, which clog arteries and make your heart muscle work harder.

Here is a list of foods to avoid:

  • High-fat processed meats, such as bologna, sausage, hot dogs
  • Solid fats, such as shortening, stick butter, or lard
  • Whole milk, cream, ice cream, and cheese
  • Baked goods that contain egg yolks and butter
  • Fried foods such as fried chicken, french fries, and potato chips
  • Fatty red meats or organ meats, such as liver
  • Saturated oils like coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil

Consider talking with a dietitian who can help you with meal planning and easy substitutions for heart healthy alternatives.

High blood pressure is a major cause of heart failure. In addition, people with poorly controlled blood pressure run twice the risk of developing heart failure compared with those who have normal blood pressure. High blood pressure causes the heart muscle to work harder to push blood through constricted vessels. Dietary changes, regular exercise, and medications can help you control your blood pressure. If you are being treated for high blood pressure, adhere to the treatment plan outlined by your doctor.

Too much sodium has been linked to high blood pressure. Aim for sodium levels less than 2,300 mg per day. Read food labels to find the hidden sodium in your diet in addition to limiting use of table salt.

The DASH diet is a plan designed to help reduce blood pressure.

To help reduce your risk of developing heart failure, aim to moderate your alcohol intake. This means two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. Be aware that alcohol also may react with certain medications you may already be taking for other conditions.

For people who have not yet developed heart failure, regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, using a stationary bike, or treadmill is recommended. Generally, it is recommended that you exercise at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. If you have a sedentary job, it may be beneficial to aim for 60 minutes of exercise a day. Overall, exercise will strengthen the heart muscle and lower blood pressure.

Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Revision Information

  • Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: Accessed October 9, 2013.

  • Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated August 16, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.

  • Heart failure screening and prevention. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated March 14, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.

  • How can heart failure be prevented? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Updated January 9, 2012. Accessed October 9, 2013.

  • Prevention & treatment. American Heart Association website. Available at: Updated March 29, 2013. Accessed October 9, 2013.

  • 7/6/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Levitan EB, Wolk A, et al. Consistency with the DASH diet and incidence of heart failure. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:851-857.

  • 8/31/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Djoussé L, Driver JA, et al. Relation between modifiable lifestyle factors and lifetime risk of heart failure. JAMA. 2009;302:394-400.

  • 12/9/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Bao Y, Han J, et al. Association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J med. 2013 Nov 21;369(21):2001-2011.

  • 12/15/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Ekelund U, Steene-Johannessen J, Brown WJ. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet 2016;388(10051):1302-1310.