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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Heart Attack

There are many steps involved in recovering from a heart attack. Some habits will need to be changed to make the heart stronger. Focus on what you can change. Doing so will improve your quality of life. Changes are focused on:

Quit Smoking

Smoking narrows blood vessels, and makes your heart rate and blood pressure go up. People who keep smoking after a first heart attack are twice as likely to have a second one. 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.

Diet and Weight Loss

Eat a balanced diet with many types of foods. You may need to focus on foods with less fat and salt in them. It is hard to make changes, so start out slowly and move forward. Swap good foods for bad foods when you can such as eating an apple instead of a candy bar.

Eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and rich in whole grains, and fruits and vegetables will help lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body weight. Eat less red meat and more lean proteins like chicken or fish. Add fish 2 days a week to get heart-healthy omega-3 into your diet.

Excess weight causes stress on the heart. Losing as little as 10 pounds can drastically lower the risk of having heart problems. Your doctor will help you find a way to lose excess weight safely. This makes it easier to stay in a healthy weight range. Keeping weight in a healthy range lowers the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other heart diseases that can lead to a heart attack.

A dietitian will help you learn how to read food labels, shop for food, and plan meals.

Exercise Regularly

Cardiac rehab is a structured program to help you get into a regular exercise routine. Choose activities you like so they become a normal part of the day. This also helps with weight loss and keeping a healthy weight. Exercise can be as easy as a brisk walk. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week.

Manage Any Health Problems

Stick with your treatment for other health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Taking medicine as directed lowers the risk of further heart attacks. 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 it is okay, then limit drinking to moderation. This is 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, or 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits. Keep in mind that alcohol may interact with how well your medicine works.

Watch for Depression

It is common to have mood changes after a heart attack. Depression can slow healing and put you at risk for other heart problems or death. Signs of depression that last longer than 2 weeks should prompt a call to your doctor. These are feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in doing favorite activities. Depression is treatable.

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.

Acute coronary syndromes. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated March 15, 2019. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Heart attack tools and resources. American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed March 28, 2019.

ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 10, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Treatment for tobacco use. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated October 17, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.

8/12/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance 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