Congestive Heart Failure Self Care

If you have congestive heart failure, your doctor has probably talked to you about lifestyle changes you can make to slow the progression of disease. In fact, some simple lifestyle changes can keep people from ever developing congestive heart failure or other heart diseases in the first place.

Here are a few lifestyle changes you can make to keep your heart functioning properly.

Preventing Heart Failure: Lifestyle Changes

Here are some recommended lifestyle changes for people suffering from congestive heart failure. Before making any of these changes, discuss them with your doctor:

  • Eat Heart-Healthy Foods: A diet rich in heart-healthy foods, such as fruits, whole grains and vegetables, that are low in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol can help control weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. A heart-healthy diet can significantly lower your risk for heart disease or can help slow the progression of heart disease.
  • Get Enough Sleep: Most doctors recommend getting at least six to eight hours of sleep every night. If you are having shortness of breath while sleeping, sleep with your head propped up at a 45-degree angle.
  • Get Plenty of Exercise: Exercise helps keep the heart healthy and helps control weight, diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about establishing an exercise plan for heart health. A moderate walking program is often beneficial to people suffering from congestive heart failure. Healthy people looking to prevent heart disease should be getting 30 minutes to one hour of exercise at least three to five days of week.
  • Limit Your Alcohol and Fluid Intake: Alcohol can weaken your heart or can increase your risk of abnormal heart rhythms, which can worsen your heart failure. Also, alcohol could negatively interact with some of your heart medications. If you have heart failure, you should avoid alcohol. If you have severe heart failure, you might be advised to limit your total intake of all fluids.
  • Maintain an Appropriate Weight: Being overweight or underweight can impact your heart and put you at risk for heart disease. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage your weight. Weight management is especially important for men with waist measurements more than 40 inches and women with waist measurements more than 35 inches.
  • Limit Cholesterol and Fats: Cholesterol and saturated fats can clog your arteries, putting you at risk for coronary artery disease and worsening your heart failure.
  • Reduce Stress Factors: Stress can raise your blood pressure and put unnecessary strain on your heart. Reduce the amount of stress in your life and ask your doctor to give you some tips on managing stress and learning to relax.
  • Restrict Sodium: Sodium makes you retain water, which makes your heart pump harder and causes shortness of breath. Consume no more than 2,000 milligrams of salt per day.
  • Stop Smoking: Smoking damages the heart and worsens congestive heart failure. The nicotine in cigarettes constricts blood vessels, causing your heart to have to pump harder. The carbon monoxide in cigarettes reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and damages the lining of your blood vessels. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
  • Weigh Yourself Every Day: Weigh yourself every morning after you’ve urinated but before you’ve eaten breakfast. If you have gained more than 3 pounds, notify your doctor, as this could mean you’re retaining fluids. Record your weight every day and take the log with you to your doctor appointments.


Mayo Clinic Staff (2006). Heart failure: Self-care. Retrieved June 22, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: