Heart Failure

Lowering Your Risk

Preventing Heart Failure

There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk for coronary artery disease and heart failure. These things include

  • keeping your cholesterol levels healthy
  • keeping your blood pressure at a normal level
  • managing diabetes
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • quitting smoking
  • limiting the amount of alcohol you drink
  • following a heart healthy diet
  • limiting the amount of sodium (salt) you consume
  • getting regular exercise
  • avoiding using illegal drugs.

Keep Your Cholesterol Levels Healthy

Keeping your cholesterol levels healthy can help prevent coronary artery disease.

Your goal for LDL, or "bad," cholesterol, depends on how many other risk factors you have. Risk factors include

  • being a cigarette smoker
  • having high blood pressure
  • having low HDL cholesterol
  • being 45 or older if you are a man and 55 or older if you are a woman
  • having a close relative who had coronary artery disease at an earlier-than-usual age (before age 55 for male relatives and before age 65 for female relatives).

Recommended LDL Cholesterol Goals

  • If you don't have coronary heart disease or diabetes and have one or no risk factors, your LDL goal is less than 160 mg/dL.
  • If you don't have coronary heart disease or diabetes and have two or more risk factors, your LDL goal is less than 130 mg/dL.
  • If you do have coronary heart disease or diabetes, your LDL goal is less than 100 mg/dL.
  • The goal for HDL, or "good," cholesterol is above 40 in men and above 50 in women.
  • The goal for triglycerides, another fat in the blood, is below 150.

Learn how to control your cholesterol with TLC -- Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes.

Keep Blood Pressure at a Normal Level

High blood pressure causes the heart to get larger and work harder, which can then lead to heart failure. You should aim for a blood pressure level of 130/80 or below. Talk to your doctor about ways to lower your blood pressure.

Get tips on how to control your blood pressure.

Manage Diabetes

If you have diabetes, it’s important to manage it properly. Diabetes is characterized by having too much glucose, or sugar, in the blood for a long time. This can cause heart problems because high blood glucose can damage parts of the body such as the heart and blood vessels. This damage weakens the heart, often leading to heart failure.

See ways to manage your diabetes every day.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess weight puts strain on the heart. Being overweight also increases your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These diseases can lead to heart failure.

See a sensible approach to weight loss.

Don't Smoke

If you smoke, quit. For free help quitting, call a smoking quit line.

See medications to help you quit.

Follow a Heart Healthy Diet

Heart-healthy foods include those high in fiber, such as oat bran, oatmeal, whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables. You can also maintain a heart-healthy diet by limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, trans-fat, and cholesterol, such as meats, butter, dairy products with fat, eggs, shortening, lard, and foods with palm oil or coconut oil.

For more on healthy eating, see Eating Well As You Get Older.

Limit the Amount of Alcohol You Drink

In general, healthy men and women over age 65 should not drink more than three drinks a day or a total of seven drinks a week.

Learn how alcohol affects you as get older.

Limit the Amount of Sodium

Sodium contributes to high blood pressure and fluid retention. Older adults should limit their intake of sodium to1,500 milligrams daily (about 2/3 tsp. of salt).

See ways to cut back on your salt intake.

Get Regular Exericse

Studies show that people with heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure benefit from regular exercise. In fact, inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day of exercise. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

For information on exercise and older adults, see Benefits of Exercise or visit Go4Life®, the exercise and physical activity campaign for older adults from the National Institute on Aging.