What You Can Do To Pump Up Your Heart

Quit Smoking

If you smoke, ask your nurse or doctor for information to help you stop.

Get Active

A balance between rest and activity is important. During rest periods, move legs and flex muscles to stimulate blood flow and reduce the risk of blood clots. At home, your activity will depend on how you feel and what the doctor tells you to do.

Physical activity is usually recommended, but activity should not lead to exhaustion or cause chest pain, shortness of breath to the point you can’t speak a full sentence or get light headed.

Guidelines for Exercise:

  • Do not exercise outside, if the weather is very hot or very cold; an enclosed area, such as an indoor gym or a mall, is an alternative place to walk in hot or cold weather
  • Do not exercise right after you eat
  • Begin walking for 5 minutes; then increase your time by 5 minutes every week until you can walk for 20 minutes; then walk 20 minutes four times a week
  • Exercise on a treadmill or an exercise bike; you can begin without resistance or incline
  • If you are a swimmer, begin swimming for 5 minutes four times a week; increase your time by 5 minutes every week until you can swim for 20 minutes; then swim 20 minutes four times a week
  • Heart failure should not limit your sexual activity; guidelines are the same as for any exercise
  • Most patients with congestive heart failure are able to return to work; ask your doctor when he or she will allow you to return to work

Maintain Your Weight and a Healthy Eating Habit

  • Limit your intake of salt and foods that are high in sodium; salt and sodium can make your body retain fluid, which can raise your blood pressure
  • Follow the advice of your nurse/doctor about how much fluid to drink each day -- you may need to limit the amount you drink
  • Watch your weight; eat a variety of healthy foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, skinless poultry and lean meats

Avoid or limit:

  • Smoked meats: hot dogs, bacon, sausage, bratwurst, ham, salt pork, lunchmeats and cheeses
  • Frozen dinners, canned foods and foods that say “instant” on the package
  • Eating out, especially selecting “fast food” as an option
  • Salted chips and crackers
  • Drinks and foods that contain caffeine
  • Limit alcoholic beverages to 1-2 drinks each day

Choose more often:

  • Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Meats such as chicken, turkey, fish and lean cuts of beef, veal, pork and lamb
  • Fresh whole grains such as potatoes, whole grain breads, rice, and pasta
  • Season your food with peppers, onions, salt substitutes, fresh herbs and spices

Take Your Medications According to Your Prescriptions

Take your medicine as your doctor has ordered. Do not skip pills or take more than you doctor has told you to take.

If you miss a dose of medicine, do not double your next dose.

Although drugs cannot cure heart failure, they can prevent it from getting worse.

  • Even if your symptoms disappear, do not stop taking you medication without talking with your doctor
  • If side effects develop, call you doctor immediately so your medications can be adjusted adjustment
  • Follow instructions on your prescriptions; take the right dose at the right time
  • Refill your medications before they run out
  • Carry an updated list of your medications and take this with you to your doctor visits; be sure to include over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal products
  • Keep your follow-up appointments with all your doctors

Call your physician if you have any of these signs or symptoms:

  • Increased shortness of breath with activity
  • Increased cough or yellow, green or pink frothy sputum
  • Increased foot, ankle, leg or stomach swelling
  • Weight gain of 2 to 3 pounds in one day or 4 to 5 pounds in 5 days
  • Wheezing (a high-pitched noise when breathing in or out)
  • Chest pain, heaviness, pressure or discomfort that is relieved by rest or medication
  • An increase in the number of pillows needed to sleep, or you need to sit in a chair to sleep
  • Reduced energy level or anything else unusual that bothers you
  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, nauseated or sweaty after taking your medications


  • Unrelieved shortness of breath and shortness of breath at rest
  • Unrelieved, new onset, or different chest pain, heaviness, pressure or discomfort
  • Feeling too dizzy to stand up

Disclaimer: This material provides general information only. It should not be used in place of the advice, instructions, or treatment given by your doctor or other health care professional.