Lifestyle Changes to Manage Heart Attack

Daily habits can improve the health of your heart while lowering the risk of another heart attack. Changes are focused on:

Quit Smoking

Chemicals from cigarettes cause a tightening of blood vessels. They also add to the plaque on blood vessel walls. People who keep smoking after a first heart attack are twice as likely to have a second one. On the other hand, quitting smoking will drop the risk of a heart attack to that of a nonsmoker within 3 years.

Being around smokers or in smoky places is also harmful. Try to stay away from them if you can. Ask visitors to smoke outside the house.

Dietary Changes

Changing eating habits is part of the treatment plan. Eating the right foods includes:

  • Limit foods with saturated fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol.
  • Focus on eating more:
    • Whole grains—Foods with whole wheat, rye, or oats.
    • Fruits and vegetables—Can also be used as snacks or dessert.
    • Lean proteins such as chicken or fish. Fish has many heart-healthy nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and omega-3. Add fish to your diet at least 2 times a week.

Eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods. A dietitian can help you with meal planning to get you started.

Weight Loss

Excess weight causes stress on the heart. It also raises the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Losing as little as 10 pounds can drastically lower the risk of having heart problems. Losing weight safely will help you get to and stay in a health weight range. A dietitian will help you learn how to read food labels, shop for food, and plan meals.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise makes the heart stronger and lowers the risk of future heart attacks. Choose activities you like so they become part of your normal day. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of exercise. It is normal to feel anxious about exercising after a heart attack. Starting out in a cardiac rehab program will put you on the right path to exercise safely and overcome any fears.

Manage Any Health Problems

Follow your care plan for other health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor if you need to make changes.

Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Talk to your doctor about drinking alcohol. You may need to avoid it.

If you do drink, do so in moderation. This is 1 drink per day or less for women and 2 drinks per day or less for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, or 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits. Alcohol may interact with how well your medicine works.

Watch for Depression

It is common to have anxiety or depression after a heart attack. Depression can slow healing and put you at risk for other heart problems or death. Signs of depression include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in doing favorite activities. Talk to your care team if these symptoms last longer than 2 weeks.

Returning to Everyday Life

Recovery from a heart attack also involves:

  • Sex—It is normal for you or your partner to feel concerned about having sex. In general, people who have a heart attack can have sex after a short time. Feel free to talk about this with your doctor. You and your partner may also find sex therapy helpful. It will allow you both to talk about your concerns and learn how to return to having sex.
  • Therapy—Support groups or one-on-one counseling can help you cope with challenges that come after having a heart attack. Support groups let you to meet others who have had a heart attack. They offer encouragement and support that will help you cope and stick with your long-term goals.
  • Participate in your care—Talk to your care team about symptoms or treatments that you are having problems with. Other treatments may be available to help you better manage your health.

References:

Acute coronary syndromes. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated March 15, 2019. Accessed March 28, 2019.
Cardiac rehabilitation. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/cardiac-rehabilitation. Accessed March 28, 2019.
Heart attack tools and resources. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/heart-attack-tools-and-resources. Accessed March 28, 2019.
ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated July 10, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.
Treatment for tobacco use. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dyname.... Updated October 17, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.
What is cardiac rehabilitation? American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiac-rehab/what-is-cardiac-rehabilitation. Accessed March 28, 2019.
8/12/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Steinke EE, Jaarsma T, Baranson SA, et al. Sexual counseling for individuals with cardiovascular disease and their partners: a consensus document from the American Heart Association and the ESC Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Applied Professions (CCNAP). Circulation. 2013;128(18):2075-2096.
Last reviewed March 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 3/28/2019

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