Leading a healthy lifestyle can make all the difference when it comes to taking care of your heart and general well-being. A smart, balanced diet and getting the right exercise to suit your body will both contribute to an improved quality of life for the whole family.
Making lifestyle changes: diet
- Balance energy intake and physical activity to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight. Reach your healthy weight and stay there! Your goal is to achieve and maintain your ideal body weight (IBW). If you are overweight your heart has to work harder to pump. IBW can be achieved by exercising regularly and watching your diet. Your dietician can help you plan a diet which provides the proper amount energy for you.
- Consume a diet rich in vegetables and fruits.
- Choose whole-grain, high-fibre foods.
- Consume fish, especially oily fish, at least twice a week.
- Limit your intake of saturated fat to <7% of energy, trans fat to <1% and cholesterol to <300mg per day by:
- Choosing lean meats and vegetable alternatives; Selecting fat-free (skim), 1%-fat, and low-fat dairy products; Minimising your intake of partially hydrogenated fats; Minimising your intake of beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Most people eat too much sodium (salt), which means the heart must work harder. One teaspoon of salt = 2000mg sodium.
Watch your fluid intake...
For severe heart failure you may need to limit the fluids (liquids) you drink throughout the day. If your doctor tells you to limit your fluid intake, you will need to watch how much fluid is in the foods you eat (soup, jelly, oranges, ice cubes). Your doctor will tell you how much fluid you are allowed. If you take certain types of diuretics (water pills), you may need to eat foods that are high in potassium and magnesium. These foods include fresh fruit (bananas and strawberries), dried fruit (raisins), and fresh vegetables (spinach).
Practical tips to control your fluid intake:
- Divide your fluid allowance evenly throughout the day.
- Avoid drinking sugary fluids.
- Use a small cup or glass.
- Take medication with a meal (unless instructed not to). Some tablets require little or no fluid to swallow if taken with food.
- Rinse your mouth with water and gargle if necessary, but do not swallow.
- Stimulate the production of saliva by sucking a lemon wedge or sweets like sherbet or chewing gum.
- Cool off by wiping your face, neck and under the arms with a wet towel. Alternatively, take a shower.
Weigh yourself each morning...
Weigh yourself on the same scale each morning, after urinating and before eating. Write down your weight every day in a diary. Bring this to your doctor’s visit. Call your doctor sooner if you gain 1kg in one day or 2.5kg in one week. Remember 1 litre of fluid weighs 1 kilogramme!
Smoking causes abnormal heart rhythm, heart attacks, lung disease and lung infections.
If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation. It can contribute to heart failure by further damaging the heart muscle. If you have heart failure you may be advised to have no alcohol at all.
Making lifestyle changes: exercise
Muscles, particularly in the legs, may become weak due to heart failure. This is due to reduced blood flow and reduced activity. The weak muscles may slow you down as much as your heart does. A structured exercise programme will significantly increase your exercise capacity.
If your daily activities are too tiring, you will need to conserve your energy. You may need to cut down on some of the heavier activities or use energy-saving devices or techniques.
- You will have good days and bad days. Try to minimise fluctuations by pacing your activities.
- Do not schedule too many things to do in one day. Allow for adequate time so that you don’t have to rush.
- Rest before and after activities. Frequent short breaks are more effective than large rest periods when you are feeling very tired.
- If you become tired during any activity, stop and rest.
- Do not plan to do things immediately after having a meal.
- Avoid extreme physical exertion. Do not push, pull or lift heavy objects that quickly tire you out or require you to strain yourself.
- For more energy-saving tips, tell your doctor you would like to speak to an occupational therapist.
To be safe, follow these exercise tips:
- Know the type and level of exercise that is right for you. Try and walk on a flat track, avoid stairs and hills.
- Try to exercise at least five days per week.
- Gradually increase your exercise from 10 minutes per day to 30–60 minutes per day. This may take 8–12 weeks to achieve.
- The right amount of activity should not exhaust you.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
- Avoid exercise in temperatures below 5˚C and above 30˚C or within an hour of eating.
- If walking is your exercise: Walking in one direction may take you far away from your starting point. Rather walk around a block or track. Try to walk continuously.
- Avoid heavy lifting.
A structured exercise programme will help you to:
- Minimise symptoms.
- Give you more stamina to keep up with your daily activities.
- Help maintain weight by burning calories.
- Keep your muscles and bones strong and healthy.
- Control cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and stress management.
- Give you a sense of well-being.
- Improve your quality of life.
Signs of exercising too hard...
- Excessive shortness of breath and palpitations
- Chest discomfort
- Exhaustion after exercise
If these symptoms occur, stop the activity and rest. Call your doctor if these symptoms last longer than 20 minutes or if they occur on a regular basis.