Do you know that about 5 million people in the U. S. have heart failure and it contributes to 300,000 deaths each year? These are staggering statistics to say the least. Yet when my patients come to me with concerns about heart disease, they are only concerned about having a heart attack.
Heart failure is a serious long-term condition that can rob you of your strength, independence, and ultimately your enjoyment of life. With as many as 670,000 new cases diagnosed each year it is a condition that is important to know about.
Most people are under the impression that heart failure means your heart stops beating. But this is not the case. Cardiac failure, which it is sometimes called, simply means that your heart can’t pump enough blood throughout your body.
The good news is you can learn to manage this condition by following your doctor’s recommendations. Making changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle will allow you to retain your independence and improve the quality of your life.
Age Plays a Role in Heart Failure
As you age, it is common for your heart to become weaker. The heart’s weakened state causes it to pump at a slower rate depriving your body’s tissues of the oxygen and nutrients they need. The heart responds by stretching to hold more blood as a way of compensating for a weaker pumping action. But the heart cannot sustain the stretching for very long.
As your heart weakens further, the stress on your entire body takes a toll. You may develop any or all of the following symptoms:
• retaining fluids in lungs, feet, ankles and legs
• shortness of breath, even when lying down
• feeling weak and dizzy when standing up
• loss of appetite accompanied by nausea and bloat
• fluttery and irregular heartbeat
Sometimes heart failure is the result of a traumatic event like a heart attack. In other cases, it happens gradually over time because of high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney problems.
Regardless of the cause, cardiac failure gradually steals away your strength. Let me share some ways to manage this condition so you can still live life to the fullest.
The Best Friend to Heart Failure is Exercise
Many of my patients with heart failure shy away from the idea of exercise. This is understandable. When you feel weak and short of breath, exercise sounds scary. But the right kind of exercise can help your failing heart immensely.
You learned earlier that cardiac failure means the loss of oxygen when your heart’s pumping ability declines. As a result you have difficulty breathing as deeply as you used to. Therefore, finding a way of improving your oxygen capacity will help your whole body regain its strength.
The type of exercise I’m referring to is interval training and it only takes approximately 20 minutes to complete. Even ten or 15 minutes a day, three times a week can make a real difference. Interval training can be done using any kind of exercise of your choice like walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing.
Start out at a slow pace, one that is comfortable for you without losing your ability to speak easily. Warm up at a slow pace for two minutes. Then for 30 seconds to a minute, work a little harder. During this interval, it will be harder for you to talk. After 30 seconds or a minute slow your pace down to where it is easy again. Allow yourself to recover fully before you increase again for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat this process four or five times and then cool down before resuming normal activities.
Researchers have found that this kind of exercise benefits heart failure patients. It can increase oxygen capacity up to 46% compared to a 14% improvement from regular aerobics. It improved blood pressure levels while regular aerobics did not. Interval training also increased the amount of blood the heart was able to pump and improved the function of the endothelial cells in the arteries. All of these improvements can make a significant difference in how well and strong you feel.
In addition to interval training, if you have heart failure, it is advisable to begin taking a coenzyme Q10 supplement. Studies show that when you have heart failure, CoQ10 increases your ability to exercise, it improves cardiac output, and it increases the amount of blood your heart is able to pump. For the best results take 100 mg twice every day.
Heart failure is a serious condition, but you don’t have to let it rule your life. You can take steps to improve your strength and your heart function that will help you maintain your independence and your quality of life.