Lifestyle Changes to Manage Heart Attack

You can improve your health after a heart attack by making changes to your lifestyle.

If You Smoke, Quit

Smoking can increase the amount of fatty material that collects in your arteries. In addition, nicotine containing cigarette smoke makes your heart work harder. It narrows blood vessels and subsequently increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Also remember that secondhand smoke is detrimental to your health. Make sure you are not exposed to cigarette smoke at all. When you quit smoking , your risk of heart disease drops significantly within the first year.

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—three heart attack risk factors. The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends that you add fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids , to your diet at least twice per week, and to talk to your doctor about whether you should take omega-3 supplements.

If you are interested in eating healthier, your doctor can give you a referral to a registered dietician. She can create a meal plan that is right for you, ensuring that you get all of the nutrients that your body needs.

Exercise Regularly

Follow your doctor’s recommendations for physical activity. 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.

If Obese, Lose Weight

Follow the dietary and exercise plan recommended by your doctor. Being overweight or obese is associated with a higher risk of heart attack. Losing weight lowers that risk. To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you expend. To maintain a healthy weight, eat an equal number of calories than you expend. One indicator of healthy weight is body mass index (BMI). BMI of 25 and above is associated with high cholesterol , high blood pressure , and increased risk of heart disease.

Take Medications As Directed

If your doctor has prescribed medicine for your heart condition, take them exactly as directed and report side effects to your doctor. Do not skip pills or stop taking them without consulting your doctor.

Drink Alcohol In Moderation

Heavy drinking is associated with increased risk of heart attack. Moderate drinking may lower the risk of heart attack. Moderate drinking is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One 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 medicines. Make sure to discuss your alcohol intake with your doctor.

When to Contact Your Doctor

  • If you experience any chest pain or discomfort—Call 911.
  • If you become short of breath
  • If you have pain in your arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • If you develop new symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, lightheadedness, or dizziness
  • If any of your medicines cause side effects

Revision Information

  • American Heart Association. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org . Accessed August 14, 2008.

  • Ferri F, ed. Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2010. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009.

  • Fish oil. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/ . Updated January 2011. Accessed January 31, 2011.

  • Goldenberg I, Jonas M, Tenenbaum A, et al. Current smoking, smoking cessation, and the risk of sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary artery disease. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:2301.

  • Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2008.

  • Kasper DL, Harrison TR. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine . 16th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2005.

  • Knapp HR, Fitzgerald GA. The antihypertensive effects of fish oil: a controlled study of polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements in essential hypertension. N Engl J Med. 1989;320:1037.

  • Libby P, Braunwald E, et al. Braunwald’s Heart Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.

  • Siscovick DS, Raghunathan TE, King I, et al. Dietary intake and cell membrane levels of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of primary cardiac arrest. JAMA. 1995;274:1363.

  • The Trials of Hypertension Prevention Collaborative Research Group. The effects of nonpharmacologic interventions on blood pressure of persons with high-normal levels. Results of the Trials of Hypertension Prevention, Phase 1. JAMA. 1992;267:1213.

  • Noble J, Greene HL, et al. Textbook of Primary Care Medicine. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 1996.

  • Rakel R. Textbook of Family Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

  • Rakel RE, Bope ET, Conn HF. Conn's Current Therapy. 60th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

  • 1/31/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Galan P, Kesse-Guyot E, Czernichow S, et al. Effects of B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids on cardiovascular diseases: a randomised placebo controlled trial. BMJ. 2010;341:c6273.