A cardiac event, such as a heart attack or a heart failure diagnosis, can be a life-changing experience. You may feel anxious and confused, and wonder if you’ll ever feel like your old self. Or you may be concerned that you’ll have another heart attack or heart-related health issue in the future.
Unfortunately, around 20% of people aged 45 and older who have a heart attack will have another cardiac event within five years of their first. But the good news is that you can make simple lifestyle changes to keep your heart healthier. And cardiac rehab can help.
You can’t address all risk factors for heart-related health issues. But the more you do to support your heart and overall health, the better your odds of staying healthy.
Stay Heart Healthy After a Heart Attack
Here are some tips for improving your heart health after a heart attack or other serious health issue that harms your heart health.
Participate in Cardiac Rehab
Under medical supervision, cardiac rehab helps you manage the lifestyle factors that affect your heart health.
Heart Health Education
You’ll get lots of information to help you improve your heart health, such as eating healthy and getting enough sleep. You’ll also learn about steps you can take to prevent more heart problems, like quitting smoking and managing:
- Blood pressure
Exercise Training and Counseling
At UVA, exercise physiologists will supervise you and help you increase your physical activity safely, with a heart monitor.
“Staff observe the patients on the cardiac monitors to watch for a patient’s heart rate and potential concerning arrhythmias that could arise during exercise,” explains Michelle Moore, an exercise physiologist with the Heart & Vascular Center.
The monitoring and customized recommendations are some of the major benefits to cardiac rehab. But if it isn’t an option for you, you should try to exercise on your own.
Change Your Diet
Diet can play an important role in managing heart health, especially after a cardiac event. A heart-healthy diet typically focuses on the following foods:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Lean meats, skinless poultry, fish, and seafood
- Low-fat dairy products
- Nuts, beans, and legumes
- Whole grains
- Plant-based oils, such as olive and avocado oil
You'll want to limit or avoid processed meats, candy, and fried foods. Mediterranean-style diets are a popular choice for people trying improve their heart health.
It may be helpful to work with a dietitian as you make changes to your diet. You'll also likely talk about your diet during cardiac rehab.
Interested in Cardiac Rehab?
You'll need a referral from a cardiologist. UVA has convenient locations throughout central Virginia.
Get Enough Sleep
“We’ve seen a good number of patients who come to rehab and complain about lack of sleep, whether it’s trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep,” Moore says. “Sometimes this is due to medications. Sometimes it’s because of stress, or the inability to turn off one’s mind.”
Sleep can play a major role in heart health. Sleep provides time for the cardiovascular system to restore and recharge. Not getting enough sleep can raise your blood pressure. It can also add to your risk for:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Mental health issues
Many of Moore’s patients assume poor sleep is a normal part of aging. But since there are health risks, she and her colleagues encourage them to follow up with their primary care providers.
Making sleep a priority can help keep your heart healthy and strong. And it’s not just about getting enough sleep – you need to get quality, restful sleep.
Prevent a Second Heart Attack or Cardiac Event
Once somebody experiences a cardiac event, it's safe to assume they don’t want another one.
Take a proactive approach to improving your heart health after a heart attack or other serious cardiac event by:
- Participating in cardiac rehab
- Eating the right foods
- Getting enough sleep
Embracing heart-healthy lifestyle changes can help you stay healthier and stronger for the long term.
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