When it comes to the heart, most of my patients worry about a heart attack. Some of them are concerned about heart disease. Few of them ever ask about heart failure.
Heart failure cases are on the rise. This devastating condition can rob you of your strength, of your independence, and enjoyment of life.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you are diagnosed with heart failure, the situation isn’t hopeless. There are things you can do to retain your independence, to improve your condition, and to protect your quality of life.
Heart failure doesn’t get the same media coverage as heart disease and heart attack, so let’s discuss what it means to have heart failure.
What Happens to Your Heart When it Begins to Fail
As you age, it is common for your heart to become weaker. As it weakens, it is less able to pump blood through the body. It doesn’t stop working, but it doesn’t do its job as well. Blood moves through the body at a slower rate and the body’s tissues don’t get all the oxygen and nutrients that they need.
Clearly, this creates a stressful situation for the body. The heart responds by stretching to hold more blood. That way there is more blood in each pump and it helps to compensate for the weaker pumping action. Unfortunately, your heart can’t sustain the stretching for long.
Eventually, it weakens further, which causes a number of bad things to happen in the body. You begin to retain fluids. The fluids build up in your extremities and around your organs. You feel short of breath, even when lying down. You feel weak and dizzy when standing up. Your appetite falls and you feel nauseated and bloated. Your heartbeat feels fluttery and irregular.
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.
No matter how it comes about, heart failure gradually steals away your strength.
But you can take action to stop it.
The Best Kind of Exercise and the
Number One Supplement to Fight Heart Failure
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.
When you develop heart failure your heart’s capacity to pump blood declines. You also lose oxygen capacity. That means you can’t breathe as deeply as you used to—you can’t take in and use the same level of oxygen that you could when you were younger.
A certain type of exercise improves oxygen capacity in heart failure patients. And that’s very important. A better oxygen capacity means that more oxygen will get to your organs and tissues.
The kind of exercise I’m talking about is interval training. You can complete an interval workout in just 20 minutes. Even ten or 15minutes a day, three times a week can make a real difference. You can do interval training using any kind of exercise you like from walking to cycling to swimming to dancing.
Start out at a slow pace, one that is comfortable for you. You should be able to speak comfortably. Warm up at that pace for two minutes. Then for 30 seconds to a minute, work a little harder. During this interval, you should be able to talk, but only with effort. After 30 seconds or a minute, slow back down to where you are comfortable. Allow yourself to recover most of the way, and then work hard again for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat this process four or five times and then cool down for a few minutes.
Researchers have found that this kind of exercise gives many benefits to 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. It also increased the amount of blood the heart was able to pump and improved the function of the endothelial cells in the arteries.[i] All of these improvements can make a significant difference in how well and how strong you feel.
In addition to interval training, if you have heart failure, you must 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.[ii] 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. And that will help you maintain your independence and your quality of life.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
[i] Wisloff U, et al. “Superior cardiovascular effect of aerobic interval training versus moderate continuous training in heart failure patients: a randomized study,” Circulation 2007; 115(24): 3042-44
[ii] Tran MT, et al. “Role of coenzyme Q10 in chronic heart failure, angina, and hypertension,” Pharmacotherapy 2001; 21(7): 797-806