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Reducing Your Risk of Heart Failure

  • Michelle Badash, MS
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Reducing Your Risk of Heart Failure

If you are at risk for heart failure, you can take steps to prevent it by adhering to these advised lifestyle guidelines:

Aim for a Healthy Weight

Excess weight can put a strain on the heart muscle. Over time this can lead to heart failure. If you are overweight, talk with your doctor about how you can adopt an eating plan that will enable you to lose weight slowly and keep your weight at the desired level.

Consider seeing a dietitian who can help you with meal planning and portion sizing.

Quit or Avoid Smoking

Smoking raises your heart rate and blood pressure right away. It also reduces how much oxygen is in your blood. This adds extra strain on your heart. Talk with your doctor about the best ways to help you quit. Avoid secondhand smoke when possible. Quitting smoking reduces your heart rate and blood pressure within minutes.

Eat a Healthful Diet

Making changes to what you eat can help lower your risk of heart failure. These changes include eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts. It also includes substituting bad fats for good fats. This means eating more mono- or polyunsaturated fats, and less saturated and trans fats. Bad fats raise your cholesterol levels, which clogs arteries and makes your heart muscle work harder.

Here are some foods to avoid:

  • High-fat processed meats, such as bologna, sausage, hot dogs
  • Solid fats, such as shortening, stick butter, or lard
  • Whole milk, cream, ice cream, and cheese
  • Baked goods that have egg yolks and butter
  • Fried foods such as fried chicken, french fries, and potato chips
  • Fatty red meats or organ meats, such as liver
  • Saturated oils like coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil

Consider talking with a dietitian who can help you with meal planning and easy changes for heart healthy alternatives.

Maintain Normal Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a major cause of heart failure. People with poorly controlled blood pressure run twice the risk of having heart failure compared with those who have normal blood pressure. High blood pressure causes the heart muscle to work harder to push blood through constricted vessels.

Diet changes, regular exercise, and medicines can help you control your blood pressure. If you are being treated for high blood pressure, stick to the treatment plan your doctor outlined.

Too much sodium has been linked to high blood pressure. Aim for sodium levels less than 2,300 mg per day. Read food labels to find the hidden sodium in your diet in addition to limiting use of table salt.

The DASH diet is a plan designed to help reduce blood pressure.

Drink Alcohol in Moderation

To help reduce your risk of heart failure, aim to moderate your alcohol intake. This means a maximum of 2 drinks per day for men, and a maximum of 1 drink per day for women. Be aware that alcohol also may react with certain medicines you may already be taking for other health issues.

Exercise Regularly

For people who do not have heart failure yet, regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, using a stationary bike, or treadmill is advised. Generally, it is advised that you exercise at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. If you have a job where you spend a lot of time sitting, it may be good to aim for 60 minutes of exercise a day. Exercise will make the heart muscle stronger and lower blood pressure.

Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.


  • Causes and risk factors. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-failure/causes.
  • DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/dash-diet.
  • Dietary guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. Dietary Guidelines for Americans website. Available at: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov.
  • Heart failure screening and prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/heart-failure-screening-and-prevention.
  • Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/heart-failure-with-reduced-ejection-fraction.
  • Treatment options for heart failure. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/treatment-options-for-heart-failure.


  • Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.