3 tips for balancing work and maintaining good health with heart failure

Each individual will experience heart failure differently, depending on their symptoms and the frequency with how they affect them. As a result, you can’t predict how things will be following a heart failure diagnosis. But many patients can and do lead a full and normal life when they manage their illness and focus on self-care.

More than half a million Canadians are living with heart failure and there’s currently no cure for this chronic illness. While the illness typically affects people later in life, it can affect all ages, and each patient case is unique. In a recent blog post, we spoke about raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart failure, and this is especially important as early diagnosis of heart failure ensures optimal treatment.

Discovering that you have heart failure is not an easy diagnosis to take on board. It’s natural to feel worried about the future and how things will plan out. However, it’s important to take things one day at a time to avoid undue stress on the heart or lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. We’ve rounded up some tips that can help you find the balance that works for you during your journey with heart failure.

Assess your work situation

 The University of Ottawa’s Heart Institute explains that not everyone who is diagnosed with heart failure needs to stop working. “In fact, continuing to work may help you feel better by offering challenge, time with other people, income, improved health and mood.” Nonetheless, it’s best to wait until your symptoms have stabilized and your medications are optimized before you consider returning to work. The type of work that you do will also affect when you return to work.

If you work in an office you may be able to return to work sooner than if you have a stressful or physically demanding job. The University of Ottawa’s Heart Institute recommends returning to work gradually as it will be less tiring if you start working part-time, at least at the beginning. “Your doctor or vocational counsellor can help you determine if and when you are ready to go back to work and if you are able to return to your regular job.”

At work, listen to your body and take regular breaks to get fresh air, walk around, and stay hydrated. It’s important that your employer understands your situation and that you find the right system for you. Similarly, if you are self-employed, allocate time for breaks in your schedule and only take on the level of work within your capabilities. Strong working relationships and communication with clients and employers will make things a lot easier.


Schedule time for exercise

Heart failure can change the types of muscle fibres in your body and decrease the number of fibres for endurance. Thankfully, exercise allows the body to become more efficient in its use of oxygen. “A muscle that is exercised regularly uses less oxygen to do a job than one that has not been exercised,” as reported by the University of Ottawa’s Heart Institute. Making exercise a part of your regular routine can help you feel better and reduce some of the symptoms associated with heart failure, such as shortness of breath and fatigue.

You don’t have to do strenuous workouts for exercise to be valuable, and walking is one of the most effective exercises for improving your health. Swimming and doing yoga are also fantastic exercise options that can help lower your blood pressure when practiced regularly. Make sure to start and finish all exercise sessions with slower walking for warming up and cooling down, while also staying hydrated. 


Look after your mental health

If you feel helpless and you are struggling to cope with heart failure, please, don’t worry — you are not alone. Ongoing feelings of anxiety or depression can interfere with your relationships and daily activities which is why it’s important to talk to your doctor, nurse, social worker, or loved ones, if you are feeling this way. Identifying what causes you stress and developing therapeutic plans to manage those times can help. You can find out more about therapeutic ways to cope with heart failure here.

Seeking support from heart failure networks and sharing your story can also help you to understand that others are going through a similar experience. Our closed HeartLife Foundation Facebook Support Group is always there when you need it. Online resources and support options are also available from the BC Heart Failure Network.

Remember to make time to focus on self-care and finding the right balance that works for your unique personal journey with heart failure.


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