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Eat Healthy, Stay Active When it Comes to Congestive Heart Failure

According to the Center for Disease Control, 5.1 million people in the United States have congestive heart failure (CHF), characterized by the heart’s inability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. A history of coronary artery disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and heart valve problems increases the risk of CHF.

The key to preventing heart failure is to reduce your risk factors. You can control or eliminate many of the risk factors for heart disease — high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, for example — by making lifestyle changes along with the help of any needed medications.

Lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent heart failure include:

  • Not smoking
  • Staying physically active
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing and managing stress

Many people with CHF can live normal lives with proper nutrition and medical management. If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, a good management plan includes these steps:

  • Weigh yourself each day. If you notice a weight gain of around two to three pounds overnight, fluid might be building up in your body. This could be a sign that CHF is getting worse. Talk with your doctor if you have noticed recent changes in your weight.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Extra pounds can be hard on your heart. Getting enough exercise (about 30 minutes per day) can help keep your weight stable.
  • Limit sodium. Sodium increases fluid in your body. Limiting sodium to <2,000 mg/day will prevent risks of CHF, high blood pressure, and stroke.
  • Limit fluid intake to 6- 8 cups per day. It is important to stay hydrated, but a high fluid intake can increase risk of fluid retention.
  • Control blood pressure. Smoking, stress and alcohol can increase blood pressure and create extra work for the heart.
  • Stay on track with medications. Research shows that people who are compliant with medications live longer, have fewer CHF symptoms, and are less likely to be admitted to the hospital.

WakeMed’s CHF program works in conjunction with primary care physicians and cardiologists to provide patients with education on managing CHF. For more information about the WakeMed CHF Program, including support groups, contact Marian Uy, RN, CHF Program manager, at 919-350-5732, or visit our website.

Amy Bowen is a clinical dietitian at WakeMed Cary Hospital, and Kelli Wood is a dietetic intern from Meredith College. With questions for the dietitians, e-mail For individual nutrition counseling, call WakeMed Cary Hospital Outpatient Nutrition Services at 919-350-2358.