Heart failure

Eating, drinking and exercise

People with heart failure may well be given different advice about diet and exercise according to individual circumstances. Some described how they had been advised to cut down on salt, fried food, gravy, butter and cheese, cakes, sweets, chocolate and alcohol. Others whose appetites were not as good as before and who had lost weight had been advised by medical staff to eat more.

People who were very overweight had often been advised to change their diet to lose weight. Those who had succeeded usually said they felt better for it, but changes to diet were often hard to make and sustain. A man who had been referred to a dietician said he was sometimes disheartened that he was not losing weight, but thought this was because of water retention. Someone else wondered if the 'Atkins Diet' (a high fat-low carbohydrate diet) was a safe way for people with heart disease to lose weight.

Most people who had tried to improve their diet described how they had cut down on red meat and dairy produce and generally ate less fried food. Many people said they knew they should eat more fresh fruit and vegetables though some found this harder to do than others particularly if they didn't like the taste. Several also said they didn't like to eat salad too often. People tried to eat smaller portions at meals and said that home-cooked food was better for you than ready-prepared meals. People often missed favourite foods such as bacon and eggs, fry-ups, chips and cream cakes, though some people still enjoyed these occasionally as a treat. Restricting fluid intake, including in foods, had sometimes been advised, and Philip was avoiding caffeine to prevent his heart from racing, which could activate his implanted defibrillator.

Taking regular light exercise such as walking had helped many control their weight and improve health (see 'Sport, hobbies and activities'). Some had changed what form of exercise they took, for instance one man had stopped doing aerobic work-outs and concentrated more on stretching. Others with more severe heart failure found taking exercise increasingly difficult and were not sure if it did them good.

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Alcohol and tobacco habits had often changed. One man regretted no longer being able to drink wine, but knew that it interfered with his medication. Others continued to have a glass or two of wine, lager or whisky - one man said that wine at lunchtime helped him sleep better. Someone else was told by a nurse that there was no need for him to cut out alcohol altogether as he was only a moderate drinker. A few people whose heart failure was alcohol-related had been advised to give up drinking alcohol altogether.

Though many people had smoked during their lives most gave up when they first became ill (see 'Peoples ideas about causes of heart failure'). Several people said they still smoked and someone was about to start a course to help him stop smoking. Many people said they wished they had not started smoking. Some people we spoke to smoked cannabis as well as tobacco, one to relieve pain from another medical condition.

For more information on diet and exercise see the British Heart Foundation.


Last reviewed April 2016.
Last updated April 2016.


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