Heart failure…the diagnosis can pack an emotional punch. However, there are ways lessen the blow on important aspects of your life.
Heart failure is a progressive condition in which your heart no longer pumps enough blood and oxygen throughout your body (1;2;3). High blood pressure, heart disease or heart attack, and certain types of medications or chemicals—such as alcohol or illicit drugs—are a few of the many potential causes of heart failure (1). In Canada alone, over 90,000 adults over the age of 40 are diagnosed with heart failure each year (6). Heart failure that occurs overtime, as opposed to suddenly, is known as Chronic Heart Failure (CHF) (1). Unfortunately, CHF is on the rise around the globe (4;5).
With about one-half to three-quarters of people dying within 5 years of their CHF diagnosis, such a diagnosis is more than enough to make you unsteady. Because your muscles and organs don’t get enough blood, completing everyday activities on your own can become difficult (2;7). Inevitably, your quality of life suffers (2;4;6). CHF is also very expensive for the health care system because of long, reoccurring (2), and unplanned hospital stays (5;8).
It’s no surprise, then, that after your CHF diagnosis you may find yourself struggling to cope with the stress of your new reality.
Although this paints a bleak picture, addressing those areas of your life that are negatively affected by CHF can make a big difference (2). One target is physical function—your ability to carry out the movements needed for everyday life (dressing, eating, etc.) and for activities that you enjoy (2;9). A second target is quality of life—your feelings about your position in life relative to your values, goals, and expectations (2;10). How you experience CHF can be just as important as the severity of your CHF (2;11).
So, if you have CHF, what can you do to improve these two target areas? One option is to stay active. The heart is a muscle, after all!
What the research tells us
A recent systematic review looked at the effect of different types of exercise on physical function and quality of life in people with CHF. Both aerobic exercise and strength training, or a combination of the two, were evaluated; dance, yoga, and tai chi were not. Exercise was done 2 to 5 times per week, lasted between 10 and 60 minutes, and was carried out over 8 weeks to 10 years.
The review found that people with CHF who exercise may experience a large improvement in both physical function and quality of life. Interestingly, the researchers reported that exercise appeared to improve these outcomes regardless of the type of exercise, its duration, its frequency, or its intensity. It also didn’t seem to matter whether exercise was carried out at home or in a supervised setting.
If you have CHF, take heart—exercise of any kind may improve your quality of life, as well as your ability to independently go about your day-to-day activities and do the things you need and love to do (2). For your own safety, remember to discuss any changes in your treatment plan, even the addition of exercise, with your health care provider first.
Learn more about how to live with heart failure with our other blogs in the series: