If you’ve had a heart attack, you may feel like your life as you know it is over. But a heart attack can also motivate you to make the lifestyle changes you’ve been putting off. If you focus on your physical health and your mental health and you take the medication you need, you could find life after your heart attack is better than it was before.
“Many people think that having a heart attack is going to lead to a big limitation or bad change in their lives,” said I-Hui “Ann” Chiang, MD, a cardiologist at Banner – University Medicine Heart Institute. “Most of the time after a heart attack, people actually do quite well and live fuller lives afterward.”
In fact, if the blockage that caused your heart attack is cleared with stents or surgery, you might feel better and have more energy than you did before your heart attack.
It’s always important to talk to your doctor before you make any lifestyle changes, and that’s especially true if you’ve had a heart attack. Once your doctor has given you the go-ahead, here are some changes that can improve your post-heart-attack life.
1. Get walking
If you’re not exercising, slowly work up to 30 to 45 minutes of exercise four to five times a week. “It doesn’t have to be extensive or difficult exercise. Walking is fine,” Dr. Chiang said. “And it might take weeks or months to work up to this level.”
2. Quit smoking
Your doctor can help you evaluate the best smoking cessation strategies so you can find one that works for you. Even if you’ve tried to quit smoking in the past, try again. Your heart attack might help you find the motivation to stick with it.
3. Make healthy changes to your diet
You want a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet centered around vegetables, with moderate amounts of whole grains and a little bit of lean protein. Studies have found that the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet can improve heart health.
4. Evaluate your salt intake
5. Limit your alcohol
Men should stay below one to two drinks per day and women should keep it under one drink per day.
6. Care for your mental health
There are various steps you can take to improve your mental health after a heart attack.
“Find ways to decrease your stress levels—try meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, relaxation breathing techniques, journaling or anything that you enjoy doing such as reading or listening to music every day,” Dr. Chiang said.
You’ll also want to lean on—or build—a supportive network of friends and family you can count on.
Getting some physical activity every day can boost your mental health, and spending time outdoors can help too. Just try to avoid extreme outdoor temperatures.
“After a heart attack, it’s very common to feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed,” Dr. Chiang said. It can be helpful to talk to a therapist or counselor to work through those feelings.
7. Take the medication you need
After a heart attack, your cardiologist might prescribe:
- Blood thinners such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), ticagrelor (Brillinta), or prasugrel (Effient). These medications are commonly prescribed after a heart attack and especially after stents are placed. They help keep new stents open while your body heals around them.
- Cholesterol-lowering medication such as statins. Statins help protect against future heart attacks. “Even with normal cholesterol levels, if statins are prescribed it’s important to take them after a heart attack for their protective effects,” Dr. Chiang said.
- Blood pressure medications. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, your doctor might prescribe these medications after your heart attack since they can protect your heart.
8. Consider cardiac rehab
Cardiac rehab gives you a safe, supervised way to exercise. Physical therapists, nurses, physicians and assistants can educate you on how to exercise as you recover and monitor you to make sure you stay safe. It can be a good way to start exercising or to ramp up your exercise routine. “A lot of people feel anxious exercising after a heart attack,” Dr. Chiang said. “Cardiac rehab can alleviate some of that anxiety.”
The bottom line
Having a heart attack doesn’t mean your life is going downhill. “Heart disease can be managed very well with a combination of medications and lifestyle changes,” Dr. Chiang said. After a heart attack, you can lead a full and active life.
If you’re concerned about your heart health, talk to your doctor or a cardiologist. To connect with a Banner Health provider, visit bannerhealth.com.
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