Five Tips To Strengthen a Weak Heart
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
No one wants to think they don’t have a strong heart, but certain health conditions can cause our heart to work harder and, over time, become weaker. Protecting our heart health is important, and if you’ve been diagnosed with a weakened heart or a condition that could lead to heart weakness, it’s important to learn how to keep it as strong and healthy as possible.
Protecting heart health requires a little maneuvering — heart-healthy foods, healthy lifestyle habits, and regular physical activity. It also means making decisions that are heart-smart, and ensuring our stress levels stay manageable.
Together, we’ll learn what a weak heart actually is and what conditions can lead to it. We’ll also give you five tips to strengthen a weak heart, and talk about an unexpected way to support your heart health on the cellular level.
What Is a Weak Heart?
Your heart is a muscle, and when that muscle is weak, it’s called cardiomyopathy (cardio for heart, myo for muscle, and pathy disease).
A person who has cardiomyopathy has a heart that doesn’t pump blood efficiently, so their body’s needs for oxygen and other key nutrients aren’t being fully met.
Cardiomyopathy doesn’t just happen on its own — it’s caused by an underlying condition, or several of them. Many times, a person won’t know they are suffering from these conditions until they begin experiencing the symptoms of cardiomyopathy.
Symptoms can include:
- Swelling in the extremities, usually the feet and legs
- Heart palpitations or a rapid, irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath when trying to walk short distances or climb a flight of stairs
- Chest pain
- Persistent cough
- Bloody mucous or phlegm with cough
- The frequent urge to urinate
Once a person finds out they have cardiomyopathy, it’s important to find the root cause of the illness.
Conditions That Can Cause a Weak Heart
There are numerous reasons why you might have a weakened heart muscle. Determining the underlying cause can help you get proper treatment, and can also help you decide whether certain lifestyle changes can help you strengthen your heart.
Insulin resistance that leads to diabetes can cause your heart to work harder than it would if your blood sugar levels were within healthy range. High blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves around the heart.
People who have diabetes are also more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. These risk factors make it more likely for a person to develop heart disease, which can weaken the heart and make it more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
Coronary Artery Disease
Currently, the most common form of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease. This disease of the arteries is caused by a buildup of plaque that causes the arteries to narrow and stiffen, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood efficiently.
Heart disease is the leading cause of the death in the United States, and has been for nearly 80 years. Atherosclerosis is the condition in which hardened, clogged arteries cause narrowing that can partially or totally restrict blood flow.
High Blood Pressure
Unhealthy blood pressure levels cause the heart to work harder to pump blood through your body. This sets the stage for a heart muscle that, over time, becomes weak and experiences cardiomyopathy.
High blood pressure is indicated by a systolic reading of over 130 and a diastolic reading over 80.
Sometimes a condition you are born with can cause your heart to remain in a weakened state. Valvular disorders and diseases as well as heart rhythm problems can all cause cardiomyopathy. Certain medications and disease treatments like chemotherapy can also cause your heart muscle to weaken.
Five Tips To Help Strengthen a Weak Heart
Because the heart is a muscle, it’s possible to strengthen it — that’s good news for people looking to boost their heart health.
Attacking the root cause can also help strengthen the heart and has the side effect of improving your overall health.
Ready to give your heart the treatment it deserves? Here are five tips for strengthening a weak heart.
1. Clean Up Your Diet
A heart-healthy diet isn’t hard to follow, it just requires a little know-how when it comes to making better choices.
Avoiding sodium and trans fats are key to this eating plan. Sodium causes water retention that forces the heart to work harder to pump blood. Trans fats raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, which can lead to the buildup of plaque.
A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help support your heart and fuel your body for regular exercise.
Eating a heart-healthy diet is easier than you might think. Instead of thinking in terms of restricting yourself from sodium, sugar, and trans fats, think about giving yourself a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, and food styles that are both delicious and nourishing for your body.
It’s also helpful to look at easy dietary replacements. For instance, if you usually salt every meal, consider using a salt-free seasoning to enhance the flavor of your food without increasing your sodium levels. Simply swapping out plain, white bread with whole grain bread is another decision that can benefit your heart, increase fiber, and produce richer flavors.
If you need a little more specific guidance, look into a Mediterranean diet, which is full of omega-3 fatty acids that come from olive oil and fatty fish like salmon — the right fats can be massively beneficial for heart health, omega-3 and otherwise!
Get moving. It’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to care for your heart. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercise per week. Additionally, lifting weights is beneficial for your heart, and reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Even just an hour of resistance training a week is enough to benefit your heart, and can also strengthen your bones, improve muscle tone, and release endorphins that just plain make you feel good.
You need both cardiovascular exercise and strength training to support your heart. New studies reveal that even five minutes of weightlifting several times a week can help significantly reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
Getting to the gym might be a challenge, but many people don’t have access to free weights or resistance equipment at home. If you do join a gym, you’re more likely to utilize the equipment available, which makes the membership worth a try if you don’t want to pick up a few weights to keep at home, or if you're not a fan of jogging around the neighborhood.
3. Stop Smoking
If you smoke, quitting is the right decision to strengthen your heart. Smoking narrows the blood vessels in your body, which naturally causes your blood pressure to rise. Smoking also causes inflammation that can lead to heart disease.
The narrowing of blood vessels can also cause a faster, more significant buildup of plaque in the arteries. The buildup of plaque in the arteries, or atherosclerosis, can quickly escalate into a heart-weakening condition that sets the stage for cardiovascular disease. Even if you don’t eat a diet high in trans fats or other artery clogging ingredients, the narrowing of your blood vessels from smoking could lead to this condition.
Smoking makes you two to four times more likely to develop heart disease. The good news is that once you quit smoking, your health immediately improves, with positive health markers increasing literally within the hour of your last cigarette. For some people, the function of their lungs improves in just a few weeks.
If you have trouble quitting smoking, there are numerous resources that can help you quit for good and lead a heart-healthier lifestyle.
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Excess weight, especially around the midsection, places a burden on the heart and makes it difficult for it to pump blood. Maintaining a healthy weight keeps your heart healthy and can also reduce your risk of developing other health conditions frequently associated with obesity.
If you aren’t sure whether or not you need to lose weight, consider your BMI. Your body mass index is a good predictor of whether or not you are carrying excess weight, and if you are at risk for weight-related health issues.
The best way to maintain a healthy weight is through regular diet and exercise. Instead of solely viewing diet and exercise as a means of losing weight, think of it as a lifestyle transition. If you adopt a healthier diet and regular exercise routine, you’re less likely to end up with excess weight that requires harder work and a more restrictive diet to lose.
The bonus of maintaining a healthy weight is that because it is usually done through diet and exercise, you’ll automatically be hitting two other heart-strengthening goals. Maintaining a healthy weight is not only beneficial to your heart, but usually helps you feel more energetic.
5. Manage Stress
Life is stressful, but not all stress is bad. Short-term stress can help us meet a deadline, finish a race, or respond appropriately in an emergency situation. We need these stress cues when they are appropriate. Long-term stress, however, can have negative health impacts.
Stress produces high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate. Long-term, this combination can lead to a weakened heart. Long-term stress can also interfere with sleep, which can affect mental health, lead to unhealthy diet choices, and make it impossible to exercise due to fatigue.
You can deal with stress by meditating, taking up a new exercise routine, or even trying yoga or or tai chi. Much like maintaining a healthy weight, using these methods also help keep you physically active, an integral part of supporting and strengthening your heart. Keeping your heart healthy and strong involves a total body overhaul, but many of the ways you’ll keep your heart strong overlap one another, making it less of a mountain to climb, and more of a scalable hill.
Be Heart Strong
There are many underlying health conditions that can cause your heart to become weak. Because the heart is a muscle, you need to take care of it and strengthen it. Eating a healthy diet, getting some exercise, and avoiding bad lifestyle habits like smoking can help you strengthen your heart and improve your overall health.
For more resources to help guide you on your journey in heart health, muscular health, and even cellular health, explore fatty15’s blog here.
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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