How to Improve Daily Heart Function

Three Methods:Maintaining a Heart-Healthy DietExercising to Improve Heart FunctionDeveloping a Healthy Lifestyle

The heart is one of the most hardworking, vital muscles in your body, pumping a little under 8 gallons of blood a minute.[1] Decreased heart function can lead to congestive heart failure, where your heart loses muscle strength and eventually stops. If your heart isn't functioning well, you'll feel tired, your legs and lungs will fill with fluid, you'll be dizzy and weak, and may have an irregular heartbeat.[2] Fortunately, you can improve heart function by maintaining a heart-healthy diet, exercising, and making lifestyle changes.

Method 1
Maintaining a Heart-Healthy Diet

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    Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Try to eat fish twice a week or look for daily a supplement containing 0.3 and 0.5 grams of EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids can protect your heart muscle by reducing inflammation in the body.[3] They may also reduce your triglyceride levels, blood pressure, blood clotting time, and irregular heartbeats. While you can purchase omega-3 fatty acid supplements in liquid gel cap form, there are several foods high in omega-3s, including:
    • Salmon
    • Lake trout
    • Herring
    • Sardines
    • Tuna
      • Buy wild-caught fish and avoid farm-raised fish which are high in antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals harmful to your health.[4]
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    Add nuts to your diet. Nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, plant sterols, and arginine, an amino acid that can help relax blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. All of these can protect the heart and the FDA says that eating 1 ounce of some nuts daily can reduce your risk of heart disease.[5][6] Fiber and plant sterols help lower your cholesterol, make you feel full on less, and may reduce your risk of diabetes, while vitamin E can prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. Try adding just a handful of walnuts or almonds to your meals. Eat either 1.5 ounces of nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter to get the health benefits.
    • Since nuts are high in calories, eat small amounts of them and stop eating chips or soda to balance out the extra calories.
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    Eat more berries. Try to eat 100 grams or around a cup of berries a day.[7] Berries, like strawberries and blueberries, are high in phytonutrients that help to protect the heart.[8] Studies show that eating berries every day can improve platelet function and "good" HDL cholesterol while reducing blood pressure. Each of these changes help to protect the heart from cardiovascular disease and improve heart function. Berries are also high in antioxidants known as polyphenols. Polyphenols are naturally found in plants and research suggests that they protect the body against cancers and cardiovascular diseases.[9]
    • You can also eat dark chocolate, tea, and red wine, which are also high in polyphenols.
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    Consume colorful vegetables. Eat 1 to 2 cups of red, yellow and orange vegetables, which are high in carotenoids and flavonoids.[10] These protect against cardiovascular disease and improve heart function by preventing oxidation of cholesterol in the arteries.[11] Oxidized cholesterol increases the formation of plaque in the arteries which can lead to heart disease.[12] While you can take beta-carotene or astaxanthin supplements to get carotenoids, there are several vegetables that naturally contain high levels of carotenoids, such as:[13][14]
    • Pumpkins
    • Carrots
    • Winter squash
    • Plantains
    • Collard greens
    • Tomatoes
    • Red peppers
    • Broccoli
    • Brussels sprouts
    • Kale
    • Spinach
    • Oranges
    • Peas
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    Eat more avocado. Try to eat avocado every day, but limit yourself to 1/4 of an avocado, since they're high in calories. Try cubing them into salads, spreading them on sandwiches, or use them in place of butter. Avocados are known as one of nature's superfoods because they're high in monosaturated fats that lower your LDL or "bad" cholesterol, as well as polyunsaturated fats which, in moderation, are good for the heart. They also have anti-inflammatory properties.[15]
    • Inflammation increases the risk of atherosclerosis and hardening of the arteries. These can cause high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.
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    Consume foods high in resveratrol. Try drinking 1 to 2 cups of wine or grape juice or eat 2 cups of grapes or raisins.[16] Resveratrol is a natural polyphenol that reduces the "stickiness" of blood platelets, which can prevent plaque buildup, reduce blood pressure, and improve heart function.[17] While you can take resveratrol supplements, it's also found in a variety of foods, including:
    • Red and black grapes
    • Red and black raisins
    • Red wine (talk with your doctor about how much you can safely drink for health benefits)
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    Avoid eating foods that contain trans-fatty acids. Trans fats will increase your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower your “good” cholesterol (HDL). They're produced industrially to reduce the potential for spoilage and give food a longer shelf life. High cholesterol levels increase your risk of high blood pressure which increases the work of the heart. These will increase the risk of congestive heart failure and poor heart function.[18] Foods high in trans fats include:
    • Deep fat fried food (like fried chicken, french fries, and doughnuts)
    • Baked goods (especially those containing shortening, like pastry)
    • Fried snacks (like chips or popcorn)
    • Refrigerator dough (like canned cookie, biscuit, or pizza doughs)
    • Creamers (like non-dairy coffee creamers)
    • Margarine

Method 2
Exercising to Improve Heart Function

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    Recognize the benefits of regular exercise. Since your heart is a muscle, it needs exercise. Sedentary behavior, like sitting all day, is the top risk factor for heart disease.[19] Instead, doing a combination of stretching, aerobic exercise, and strength training can strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system. It does this by improving circulation and helping your body use oxygen more efficiently.[20]
    • Exercise can also improve your sleep and reduce stress, both of which are important for heart health.
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    Stretch before and after exercising. Stretch, or slowly lengthen your muscles, to prepare your muscles for activity and provide balance, which prevents injury. Spend at least 7 to 10 minutes stretching your arms and legs before and after each workout to reduce soreness the next day. Be sure to control the area being stretched. Don't bounce or hold a stretch longer than 15 seconds because you may pull or tear the muscle. Instead, breathe evenly and slowly stretch your tightest muscles first to increase your range of motion.[21]
    • Stretching will lead to better physical fitness, increase mental and physical relaxation, and reduce muscle soreness.[22]
    • Don’t stretch first thing in the morning. Wait at least an hour to give your muscles time to warm up.
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    Do aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise. Aerobic exercise is highly recommended for heart health because it breaks up stored fatty acids, providing more fuel for heart muscle.[23] It increases energy release and helps the heart function more efficiently by strengthening your heart and lungs. It will also lower blood pressure. You may want to exercise every other day to develop the exercise habit. Then, work up to exercising for 30 minutes 6 days a week.[24] Aerobic exercises that help improve your daily heart function include:[25]
    • Walking
    • Jogging
    • Rowing
    • Swimming
    • Tennis
    • Golf
    • Cross country skiing
    • Skating
    • Biking
    • Jump roping
    • Low-impact aerobic classes
      • Any exercise that increases your heart rate and leaves you slightly out of breath is increasing the work of the heart muscle and improving function.
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    Strength (resistance) train. Strength train every other day to give your muscles a chance to rest between sessions. You can strength train by lifting weights, which will contract your muscles, help you gain strength, and improve your balance and coordination. Research is starting to suggest that strength training is an important part of heart health for these reasons.[26] The American Heart Association recommends strength training because it:[27]
    • Increases strength in bones, muscles and connective tissue.
    • Lowers the risk of injury.
    • Improves muscle tone which burns more calories, making it easier to maintain a normal weight.
    • Improves the quality of life.
    • Lowers blood pressure, reducing the amount of oxygen and blood needed to maintain cell health and lowering the overall risk of disease.

Method 3
Developing a Healthy Lifestyle

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    Try stress-reducing techniques. You can try yoga, listen to calming music, meditate, exercise, or talk to friends to reduce daily stress. Stress can damage your heart function and increase the inflammatory response in your body.[28] It can also affect behaviors that impact your arteries and heart function. For example, many people turn to alcohol, smoking, overeating, and don't have much time for rest or exercise when stressed. This leads to high blood pressure, arterial wall damage and obesity that can all damage your heart function.[29]
    • Try a variety of stress-reducing techniques until you find one that relaxes you. You might also try deep-breathing exercises, massage, hypnosis, or tai chi.[30]
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    Quit smoking. Talk with your doctor about a smoking cessation program that will work with your lifestyle. Or, at least try to reduce smoking, since it contains thousands of chemicals that can seriously damage your heart. Smoking reduces heart function by increasing blood pressure, reducing exercise tolerance and increasing the likelihood that the blood will clot. Nicotine, the addictive compound in cigarettes, is known to increase heart rate and blood pressure.[31][32]
    • You should also take care to avoid secondhand smoke, which can also damage your heart.[33] Stay in open outdoor areas, upwind from friends and relatives who like to smoke.
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    Laugh. Laughing can also reduce stress, which improves heart function. Researchers found that the old saying “laughter is the best medicine” holds some truth. They found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh compared to other people of the same age without heart disease.[34] Make it a point to find the things in life that give you joy and make you laugh every day. You might try:[35]
    • Watching a funny movie or television show
    • Reading comedy books
    • Laughing about the funny things your pet does
    • Spending time around people that make you laugh
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    Sleep 7 to 8 hours at night. Sleeping less than 6 hours a night or more than 9 can increase your risk of heart disease and death. But, sleeping 7 to 8 hours each night leaves you feeling rested and refreshed. More importantly, it helps reduce your stress level and allows your body plenty of time to relax and unwind.[36]
    • Lack of sleep can increase your blood pressure, irritability, instability, and decrease your energy level.[37]
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    Consider reducing your alcohol intake. Talk with your doctor about whether you should reduce or stop drinking alcohol. If there are no reasons why you shouldn't be able to drink, then one or two drinks should be safe. But, if you or someone in your family has a history of alcoholism, hypertriglyceridemia, pancreatitis, liver disease, heart failure or uncontrolled hypertension, then you should not drink alcohol. Each of these conditions will damage your heart function.[38]
    • Review your alcohol intake with your doctor every year to discuss the benefits and risks.
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    Check your blood pressure on a regular basis. You should have your blood pressure measured annually if it has been within normal limits, since blood pressure is an indicator of heart function. High blood pressure is one of the primary health conditions that damages the function of your heart.[39] If it's high, you'll need to follow the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor. There are also several lifestyle changes you could make, including:[40]
    • Keeping your weight within normal limits.
    • Drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water to avoid dehydration.
    • Cutting back on the amount of caffeine you drink daily.
    • Getting involved in a supportive community.


  • Women will not gain muscle mass the way that men do because the growth of muscle mass is dependent upon male hormones. Women will become more toned by incorporating strength training in their weekly routine.


  • Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program to ensure that any underlying medical conditions or medications you may be taking will not interfere with your results.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Cardiovascular Health and Blood Pressure