Fatigue is a known enemy to many people in the United States. The average American feels tired three days per week which calculates out to a shocking 42% of the time! There are many reasons this statistic is so high, one of the most obvious being a consistent lack of sleep. The CDC recommends at least seven or more hours of sleep per night for adults, yet only one in three Americans get this on a daily basis. If you are a heart patient, this battle is probably not new for you, even if you do get enough sleep. Fatigue is often magnified for heart patients because heart disease is clinically known to cause fatigue. We are here to tell you that you are not alone and there are things you can do to feel better and increase your energy levels.
Heart Disease and Fatigue
Patients with heart disease often experience fatigue for a variety of reasons, usually caused by multiple factors working together. These factors may include but are not limited to:
- A structurally abnormal heart
- Necessary medications causing fatigue
- Diminished activity resulting from the long standing effects of heart disease
- The compounded effects of other medical conditions often found in heart patients such as elevated blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity.
- Congestive heart failure can cause significant fatigue and exercise intolerance which can greatly limit your ability to do regular activity and daily exercise. Congestive heart failure can result from a weakened heart condition (the heart does not pump blood efficiently) or from diastolic dysfunction (a condition where the heart pumps normally but it does not relax well and becomes stiff).
Together, these conditions and risk factors often result in a feeling of prolonged fatigue and overall ill health.
7 Ways to Combat Fatigue
If you are a heart patient and consistently feel fatigued, there are things you can do! Below we have outlined seven ways heart patients can combat fatigue.
- Regular low intensity exercise | Low intensity exercise means you are keeping your heart rate lower than 60% of its maximum heart rate (calculated at 220 – age X .6). For example, if you are 50 years old the calculation would be 220 – 50 X .6 = 102 beats per minute. Common exercises for low intensity exercise include walking, light jogging, swimming, slowly lifting weights, cycling at a casual pace, using an elliptical machine at a slower pace, dancing and yoga. A persistence to engage in regular physical activity will over the long term improve the way you feel and promote a better overall health and well being.
- Control of diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking cessation | Controlling your diabetes and high blood pressure coupled with smoking cessation are major steps in improving your heart condition, which as a result, may help improve your feeling of fatigue. Uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking all contribute to feelings of fatigue and can be compounded when paired with heart disease.
- Regular check ups with your primary care physician and cardiologist | Your doctors can help you manage your current medical illnesses and help anticipate many future medical conditions that over the long term, may worsen your state of health. He or she can also help you manage your feelings of fatigue in ways that are specific to your medical history and current medical problems.
- Avoidance of excessive alcohol intake | Alcohol has a sedative quality which may make you tired during the day. In addition, drinking alcohol before bed may help you fall asleep, but it can cause you to sleep poorly throughout the night, increasing your likelihood of fatigue.
- Commit to a healthy lifestyle | Living a healthy lifestyle which includes eating healthy, exercising, good sleep hygiene and more can also help lower fatigue. If you would like free, heart healthy recipes, join our group on Facebook where we consistently post recipes for you and your family to try!
- Weight reduction (if necessary) | Obesity is one of the most common reasons an individual will feel fatigued. Many individuals who are overweight find it difficult to exercise but actually feel a sense of accomplishment thereafter. Even an additional 20 pounds of excess body mass can significantly affect your ability to perform the simplest of activities. Imagine walking up and down a flight of stairs with a 20 pound suitcase. There is no doubt it is more difficult. Add to this 50 pounds or more and you can see that it becomes extremely difficult. The good news is that if you can lose weight, the staircase will not be so difficult, but as with anything worth having, it takes time! So hang in there, take it slow and be committed. The results will speak for themselves.
- Adherence to your prescribed medications | Medications prescribed by your doctor are aimed to improve your overall health. As mentioned above, adherence to your blood pressure or diabetes medications will improve your health and when controlled, often will reduce your fatigue caused by that condition.
It is important to note that decreasing fatigue is a process, not an event. For example, heart disease typically begins long before significant symptoms tend to occur and by the time a patient becomes symptomatic, the process has usually been present for more than a decade. Over time and with a consistent lifestyle change, the fatigue you suffer as a result of your heart disease or other medical conditions will generally improve quite significantly. Admittedly, you may not feel 25 again but with a big dose of persistence, most individuals will start to regain their energy levels and subsequently feel significantly better.
Realistic expectations depending on the severity and type of heart disease are crucial for each person’s long term success. There is no magic answer to fatigue. Rather, it is a composite of many individual variables that when added together can make an incredible difference in not only the quantity of your life but perhaps just as important, the quality of your life.
Until next time, live well and begin to focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle. If you are able to do this consistently, the fatigue you feel will hopefully be a distant memory and your new found activity will be motivation enough to continue your long standing battle against fatigue.