Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Heart Attack

Heart attack recovery includes taking steps to improve your cardiovascular health and prevent another heart attack. Many daily habits can improve your heart health. Focusing on factors that you can modify will also enhance the quality of your life and overall well being. Lifestyle changes include:

Quit Smoking

Smoking can increase the amount of fatty material that collects in your arteries. In addition, nicotine found in many cigarette and smoking reduction products make your heart work harder. Nicotine can narrow blood vessels and lead to an increases in your heart rate and blood pressure. If you continue to smoke after your first heart attack, you will nearly double your chance of having a second one. When you quit, your risk of heart attack drops to that of a nonsmoker within 3 years.

Secondhand smoke is also detrimental to your health. Ask people to avoid smoking in your home or car and avoid smoky environments.

Eat a Heart Healthy Diet

A diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body weight—3 heart attack risk factors. The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends adding fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, to your diet at least twice per week. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take omega-3 supplements.

Consider talking to a dietitian who can help you with meal planning.

Exercise Regularly

After a heart attack, you will most likely be referred to a cardiac rehabilitation program, which will help you establish a life-long exercise plan. Choose exercises that you enjoy and that you will make a regular part of your day. Strive to maintain an exercise program that keeps you fit and at a healthy weight. For most people, this could include walking briskly or participating in another aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week.

Lose Excess Weight

Being overweight or obese is associated with a higher risk of heart attack. Losing as little as 10 pounds can significantly lower that risk. To lose weight, focus on a balanced diet with whole foods and participate in regular physical activity. Talk to your doctor about recommended diets or activity. Consider working with a dietitian to help with meal planning.

You can gauge you progress by monitoring your body mass index (BMI). BMI of 25 and above is associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and increased risk of cardiovascular conditions that can lead to a heart attack.

Manage Any Health Conditions

If you have any other health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, it is important to follow your treatment plan. Taking any prescribed medications is important to help reduce the risk of further heart attacks. If you have questions or problems following your plan, talk to your doctor.

Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of heart attack. Moderate drinking may lower the risk of heart attack. Moderate drinking is 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. 1 drink equals 12 ounces of beer or 4 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits. In addition, alcohol may interfere with your medications. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should drink alcohol.

Monitor Yourself for Depression

It is common to have mood changes, especially within the first few months following your heart attack. Depression can undermine your recovery and put you at risk for cardiovascular complications and death. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in your favorite activities that stay with you for at least 2 weeks should prompt a call to your doctor. There are several treatment options available, such as medication and/or counseling.

Returning to Everyday Life

Recovery from a heart attack can require more than just physical improvements. Other recovery factors include:

  • Sexual activity —It is normal for you or your partner to feel concerned about whether it is safe for you to resume sexual activity. In general, people who have a heart attack can safely resume sexual activity after a short recovery period. To find out what is safe for you, make an appointment to discuss this issue with your doctor. You and your partner may also be referred to sexual counseling. It will allow you both to talk about your concerns and learn how to safely resume sexual activity.
  • Counseling —Support groups or one-on-one counseling can help you navigate the challenges of recovering from a heart attack. Support groups allow you to interact with others who have had a heart attack. They offer an environment of encouragement and support that will help you adjust and adhere to your treatment.
  • Be an active participant in your care —Talk to your team about symptoms or treatments that you are having difficulty with. Other treatments options may be available to help you better manage your health.

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Last reviewed March 2017 by Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC  Last Updated: 3/15/2015