For smokers, giving up is likely to be the single biggest way to cut the risk of developing coronary heart disease and heart failure. Tobacco smoke can damage your heart in a number of ways, forcing it to work harder.
Smoking also tends to make the blood thicker and slows down blood flow, increasing the risk of blood clots (thrombosis). It damages the linings of the arteries, causing them to clog up. This clogging up of the arteries (atherosclerosis) is a main cause of coronary heart disease, stroke and some forms of dementia.
Keep your blood pressure down
When your blood pressure is too high, your heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. To cope with the extra effort the heart muscle becomes thicker over time, but eventually it becomes too stiff or weak to work properly. Keeping blood pressure down can stop this happening so it may be useful to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
It may be necessary to take blood pressure medicines (usually more than one) to get your blood pressure down to a healthy level. It is important you and your doctor choose the medicine or combination of medicines that will suit you.
Reduce your cholesterol level
High levels of cholesterol (fat) in your blood can cause clogging and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart attacks and strokes. The risk of coronary heart disease – and therefore heart failure – increases as the level of cholesterol in the blood increases. If you have other risk factors, such as high blood pressure or you smoke, the risk is even bigger.
If your cholesterol level has been found to be too high, your doctor will usually first advise making some changes to your diet (switching to a low-fat diet) and taking plenty of regular exercise. If, after a few months, your cholesterol level has not dropped, you will usually need to take cholesterol-lowering medicines.
Being overweight increases your risk of coronary heart disease and a heart attack, both of which make heart failure more likely.
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet can help reduce your risk of getting coronary heart disease and therefore heart failure. If you already have heart problems, a healthy diet can help protect your heart from getting worse, as well as protecting you from other diseases such as diabetes and some cancers.
Regular physical activity can keep your heart healthy and help you maintain a healthy weight. You do not need to join a gym or start running marathons, but including exercise in your daily routine will help. You may need assessment of your fitness to engage in a program that suits your ability to exercise safely. People who aren't easily mobile can do chair-based exercises.
Drink within safe limits
Drinking above recommended levels can increase blood pressure, which can lead to heart failure. Heavy drinking over a number of years can damage the heart muscle and lead directly to heart failure, as well as having many other harmful effects on your health.
Men who regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day, and women who regularly drink more than 2 to 3 units a day are likely to be damaging their health.
Cut your salt intake
Too much salt can raise your blood pressure. Reducing the amount of salt you eat will help keep your blood pressure down and help reduce your risk of getting heart failure.
Last reviewed: September 2016