Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a hereditary chronic condition that causes the heart muscle to thicken, making it harder to pump blood. There’s no cure for HCM, but medications may help alleviate symptoms and improve overall heart function.

Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes before medications, especially if your condition is asymptomatic.

Read on to learn about lifestyle tips that may help you manage HCM, and how these may help protect your heart and reduce symptoms.

Though exercise is essential for overall heart strength and function, selecting the best activities that won’t strain your heart muscle is crucial with HCM.

Low to moderate-intensity exercises, such as yoga, tai chi, and walking, instead of more vigorous activities, like running or contact sports, may be beneficial. Vigorous exercise might increase the risk of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) — and possibly cardiac arrest — when you have HCM.

However, one 2022 review also noted there may be evidence showing young adults with HCM may benefit from higher activity levels. More studies are needed to support this theory.

Minor chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue after exercise could also be warning signs of too much physical exertion. If you experience any of these, stop the activity and see a doctor for evaluation.

You may have heard of a “heart-healthy diet,” which is likely the type of plan a doctor will recommend when you have HCM.

This means eating more plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with beans and legumes. A doctor may also recommend limiting salt, sugar, and saturated fats in your diet.

For more structure, you may consider either the Mediterranean diet or the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) eating plan. Both focus on whole, heart-healthy foods while reducing foods containing fat, sugar, and salt.

Dietary changes and regular exercise can also help you maintain a moderate weight. This is an essential consideration for HCM because being above a moderate weight can further stress your heart.

One 2021 study of participants with obesity and symptomatic HCM found that combining low to moderate-intensity exercises with the Mediterranean diet positively impacted overall heart function.

If you’re concerned about your body weight and its potential effects on your heart health, consider talking with your doctor. They can help you identify what a moderate weight looks like for you and offer advice on weight loss interventions.

Regular stress management can help maintain your heart health, but it may be especially helpful if HCM is causing you anxiety. Extremely high levels of stress may even increase your risk of heart arrhythmias.

Taking time to relax every day — even for a few minutes — can help you reduce stress and maintain a positive attitude. Possible activities include deep breathing exercises, a quick nap, or taking a warm bath.

If you still experience high levels of stress regularly, consider talking with your doctor.

If you smoke, it’s a good idea to quit or reduce smoking — especially if you’ve been diagnosed with HCM. Smoking can increase your risk of heart-related complications, including atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, and stroke.

Talk with your doctor about ways to quit smoking to benefit your heart health. Most people can reduce their risk of a heart attack after one year of quitting. Also, keep in mind that no amount of smoking — even an occasional cigarette— is safe for your heart.

Getting enough sleep is crucial for everyone, but prioritizing healthy sleep hygiene can also reduce your risk of heart complications when you have HCM. Sleep apnea can worsen your HCM symptoms, so be sure to keep up with your treatment.

Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Short duration and poor quality sleep have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. You can help reduce these risks by going to bed and waking at the same time each day.

Ask your doctor whether it’s safe for you to drink alcohol. Research suggests alcohol may increase blood pressure and possibly worsen obstructed blood flow in HCM.

If you drink alcohol, you can help protect your heart health by quitting or limiting your overall intake. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends no more than one drink a day for females and two for males.

Overall, HCM has a positive outlook. Treatment and lifestyle changes can help people with HCM have an average life expectancy.

However, if you experience changes in symptoms, such as chest pain, fatigue, or swelling in your body, it’s vital to report these to your doctor right away. These may be signs of HCM progressing and may require additional treatment.

It’s also essential to treat and manage any other possible health conditions, so that they don’t worsen HCM. Other conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. Talk with your doctor about possible routine blood tests and office visits.