Yes, it is possible to rebuild heart strength through lifestyle changes and medical interventions. The heart is a muscle that gets stronger with regular exercise. Even if your heart is weakened by conditions like heart failure or a heart attack, there are steps you can take to improve cardiac function and rebuild lost strength.
What weakens the heart?
There are several factors that can lead to a weakened heart over time:
- Coronary artery disease – Plaque buildup in the arteries reduces blood flow to the heart, which can damage heart muscle.
- Heart attack – Loss of blood flow during a heart attack kills heart muscle cells.
- Cardiomyopathy – Enlarged or thickened heart muscle that doesn’t pump efficiently.
- Heart failure – Often the end result of untreated heart disease. The heart can’t keep up with the body’s demands.
- Valvular disease – Faulty heart valves that don’t open properly force the heart to work harder.
- Arrhythmias – Abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation can weaken the heart over time.
- Cardiac arrest – Lack of blood flow stops the heart completely, even if just briefly.
- Other conditions – High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, thyroid disorders, substance abuse, and more.
Damage or disease in any part of the cardiovascular system can weaken the heart muscle. When the heart can’t pump blood as efficiently, the body doesn’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
How do you know if you have a weakened heart?
Some signs and symptoms that may indicate a weakened heart:
- Shortness of breath – Especially with exertion
- Fatigue and weakness
- Swelling in legs, feet or abdomen
- Dizziness or fainting
- Palpitations – Fluttering or pounding heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Coughing or wheezing – Fluid can back up into lungs
- Loss of appetite and nausea
- Confusion or impaired thinking
- Rapid weight gain from fluid retention
However, sometimes there are no symptoms until the heart function has been significantly compromised. That’s why regular checkups and screening tests are important to monitor heart health.
Diagnostic tests that can detect and evaluate weakened heart muscle include:
- Stress test
- Cardiac CT
- Cardiac MRI
- Blood tests
What is ejection fraction?
One key measurement of heart strength is called ejection fraction (EF). This refers to the percentage of blood that gets pumped out of the left ventricle with each contraction.
- Normal EF is 50-70%.
- An EF under 40% often indicates heart failure.
- Below 40% is considered reduced EF.
- An EF under 30% indicates severely weakened heart function.
The lower your EF, the weaker your heart muscle. Improving EF is a good sign that heart failure treatment is working.
How to rebuild heart strength
If you’ve been diagnosed with a weakened heart, there are many things you can do to strengthen your cardiac muscle and improve function:
1. Follow doctor’s orders
First and foremost, take all medications as prescribed and follow your cardiologist’s treatment plan. This may include:
- Beta blockers – Reduce blood pressure and strain on the heart.
- ACE inhibitors – Lower blood pressure and prevent further damage.
- Diuretics – Flush excess fluid and sodium to reduce swelling.
- Blood thinners – Prevent clotting that could lead to heart attack or stroke.
- Statins – Lower cholesterol and plaque buildup in arteries.
- Surgical or minimally invasive procedures – Such as bypass surgery, stents, ablation for arrhythmias, or valve repair.
- Medical devices – Like pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs).
Following prescribed treatment helps strengthen the heart and prevent future complications. Don’t make changes without consulting your doctor.
2. Exercise regularly
One of the most effective ways to rebuild heart strength is through exercise. Cardiac rehab programs can help design a customized exercise plan based on your specific condition.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity like brisk walking, light cycling, or water aerobics on most days. Exercise helps:
- Increase EF
- Strengthen the heart muscle
- Improve blood flow
- Lower blood pressure
- Aid weight loss
- Reduce stress
- Boost energy and endurance
Check with your doctor before significantly increasing exercise levels. Monitor your body’s response.
3. Eat a heart-healthy diet
A nutritious diet optimized for heart health includes:
- Lean proteins like fish, skinless poultry, beans, nuts
- Fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds
- Limited sweets, salt, red meat, and processed foods
This nourishes the heart muscle, reduces plaque buildup in arteries, and prevents obesity. Losing excess weight takes strain off a weakened heart.
4. Reduce stress
Chronic stress takes a toll on cardiovascular health. Try to minimize stress triggers, and make time for relaxation through:
- Calming music
- Spending time outdoors
Laughing and spending time with loved ones also relieves stress. Consider counseling for anxiety, depression or emotional trauma.
5. Optimize other medical conditions
Work closely with your healthcare team to proactively manage conditions like:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- COPD or asthma
- Kidney problems
- Sleep apnea
Controlling these provides immense benefit to your cardiovascular health.
6. Quit smoking and limit alcohol
If you smoke, commit to quitting. Smoking severely damages the heart and blood vessels. Heavy alcohol use also strains the heart. Ask your doctor for help quitting if needed.
Supplements for heart strength
Evidence suggests certain supplements may support heart health when used alongside medical treatment. Always check with your doctor before starting supplements. Potential options include:
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – Antioxidant that may improve EF and heart pumping ability.
- D-ribose – Provides energy for cardiac muscle recovery.
- Magnesium – Helps control blood pressure.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – From fish oil. Reduce inflammation and lower heart disease risk.
- Vitamin D – Many people are deficient. May provide cardiovascular benefits.
Herbal supplements like hawthorn berry and gingko biloba need further study but show some potential. Always talk to your doctor before using herbal supplements because they can interact with medications.
Can you rebuild a weakened heart?
Yes, in many cases heart muscle strength and EF can improve significantly through lifestyle changes, medication, exercise, and diet.
However, any prior heart damage is permanent. Some key points:
- Treatment aims to prevent further deterioration and rebuild remaining muscle strength.
- Recovery takes time. Commit to long-term lifestyle change.
- Success depends on the extent of original damage and underlying cause.
- For severe heart failure, options like transplant or ventricular assist may be considered.
Work closely with your medical team and be patient through the recovery process. Stay positive knowing that meaningful improvements to cardiac function and quality of life are possible.
Warning signs to watch for
Call your doctor promptly if you experience:
- Increasing shortness of breath or fatigue
- New or worsening chest pain or pressure
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Racing or fluttering heartbeat
- Swelling in feet, legs, or abdomen
- Persistent cough or wheezing
- Lack of appetite or nausea
These may indicate your condition is worsening and require medication adjustment or additional treatment. Ongoing medical monitoring is key.
Outlook for weakened heart recovery
The prognosis for a weakened heart depends on:
- Cause of damage – Some underlying conditions are very treatable.
- Extent of damage – Smaller areas of scar tissue are less debilitating.
- Age and overall health – Younger, healthier people have better outcomes.
- Commitment to lifestyle change – Adhering to diet, exercise and medical therapy.
- Presence of other diseases – Co-existing conditions strain the heart.
- Rate of progression – Gradual decline is better than rapid.
For mild cases, getting back to normal EF and quality of life may be achieved. Severe long-term heart failure has lower success rates for full recovery.
Discuss your specific prognosis openly with your doctor. With treatment, even severe weakness can stabilize and become manageable.
Rebuilding weakened heart muscle is possible through a multifaceted approach. Work closely with your medical team on medications, surgical procedures, and medical devices as needed. Commit to regular exercise, a heart healthy diet, stress reduction, and smoking cessation. Take prescribed supplements. Monitor your condition closely and adjust treatment as needed.
With time, dedication, and the right lifestyle changes, even significantly reduced heart function can often be improved. Stay positive and proactive in caring for your heart.