Life After a Heart Attack: Tips for Recovering and Staying Healthy

Take charge of your life after a heart attack

Having a heart attack doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to live a healthy and productive life. In the United States, only 15% of heart attacks end in death every year. Take charge of your life after a heart attack by heeding these healthful tips and delicious smoothies to avoid future attacks and heart problems.

Heart Attack Causes and Symptoms

Every year, close to one million people in the United States suffer heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions, which usually occur as a result of coronary heart disease (CHD)—a sometimes deadly form of cardiovascular disease. Coronary heart disease and coronary artery disease (CAD) are two terms often used interchangeably. The differentiating factor, however, is that CAD causes CHD.

The plaque that your heart accumulates over the years can condense in certain coronary arteries so much so that it obstructs the flow of oxygen- and nutrient-laden blood from reaching your heart. Meanwhile, other coronary blood vessels expand to compensate for the decreased blood flow or loss. If the plaque eventually ruptures, blood clots that form near the ruptured plaque further obstruct blood flow and damage the heart muscle.

Common heart attack symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue, but some symptoms may go unnoticed. Heart tissue damage and brain cell damage can happen if heart attack sufferers do not receive prompt medical attention. Doctors may administer a combination of blood-thinning aspirin, oxygen therapy, and nitroglycerin (to increase blood flow) as an immediate heart attack treatment.

How to Lower Your Risk of Heart Attack

After a heart attack there are major risk factors that you can control in the long term to prevent further heart damage, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, drug and alcohol consumption, poor diet, stress, and lack of exercise. In fact, over a lifespan preventative heart attack recovery measures are much less expensive than the in-patient hospitalization and invasive surgeries heart attack sufferers undergo. In their 2016 assessment of hospital in-patient aggregate costs for 2013, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that heart-related illnesses were among the most commonly treated ailments requiring hospitalization, costing sufferers and their families billions of dollars.

Heart-Healthy Foods

Even with uncontrollable risk factors for heart disease, such as age and family history, you determine what happens after a heart attack, for the most part. Your food choices make a huge impact on your heart health and are a requisite component of a healthy lifestyle after a heart attack.

What you don’t choose to eat may, in fact, be more important than what you do select. Avoid foods that contribute to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, such as foods high in trans fats and sugars, preservatives, processed foods, and refined starches—which all facilitate plaque buildup in your heart.

Instead opt for a heart-healthy diet full of nutrients like:

  • Omega-3s: These fatty acids are found in foods such as wild-caught salmon, leafy-green vegetables, flaxseeds, chia seeds, almonds, and walnuts. Soy is also a great choice that contains similar heart-healing polyunsaturated fats as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which possess powerful anti-inflammatory effects and decrease stroke risks.
  • Antioxidants: Assorted berriesblueberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.—are loaded with free-radicalizing antioxidants that keep heart system cells functioning properly.
  • Potassium: The potassium in bananas, avocados, low-fat milk, and low-fat yogurt combat heart arrhythmias, or heartbeat irregularities, linked to low potassium levels.
  • Probiotics: The probiotics found in low-fat yogurt, especially, promote the good gut flora that combats high cholesterol levels.
  • Cacao: To assuage the sweet tooth, pick up dark chocolate with no less than 70% cacao. Dark chocolate’s flavonoids promote blood flow and decrease inflammation. The milk chocolate options usually contain more sugar and a less potent strain of cocoa.
  • Resveratrol: Limit your daily intake of a 4-ounce glass of red wine to once (for women) or twice (for men) daily to experience the blood de-coagulating nutrient resveratrol.

Heart Health Smoothie

The enduring hype about smoothies’ nourishing benefits is valid. Craft your smoothie ingredients with care for a wholesome blast of heart healthful goodness in one meal. Drinking smoothies is a great way to contemplate your ingredients, as you monitor your intake and get the highest nutritional value from your food portions as possible.

Adding a dash or more of your favorite VeggieShake blend to your heart-healthy smoothies amps up the nutritive potential even further. This superfood powder contains probiotics that sustain gut flora health; antioxidant-rich leafy-green veggies; barley grass, which helps you shed the extra weight associated with high cholesterol; and spirulina, which lowers “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while it raises “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels. Try VeggieShake with these recommended heart-healthy smoothie recipes that yield one large serving each.

Heart-healthy smoothie recipes with VeggieShake

Heart-healthy smoothie recipes with VeggieShake

Stay healthy to avoid heart attack.

Stay healthy to avoid heart attack.

Heart-healthy smoothie recipes with VeggieShake

Heart-Healthy Exercise

After suffering a heart attack, following a heart-healthy exercise program may be the last thing on your mind. But know that exercise is a good thing for your heart, and you don’t have to sign up for an expensive gym membership either. Anything that makes you move and burn calories is considered exercise—and that includes walking, jogging, biking, or cleaning your home.

Exercise increases blood flow through the body, removes toxins through sweat glands, and lowers both blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Your cardiologist will gauge the ideal intensity in light of your particular health condition; so check there before starting your new exercise routine.

If you’re at all hesitant about putting too much strain on your heart with regular exercise, consider the results of a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, which found that performing even low levels of exercise the first year post heart attack helps reduce the risk of future heart attacks. Dr. Randal Thomas, medical director of the cardiac rehabilitation program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, explains that the study validates exercise as “one of the most important medicines people can take before cardiac events but, in particular, after them as well.”

Take Rest to Heart

In today’s fast-paced world, getting adequate daily rest is often overlooked. Not only do sleep deprivation and irregular sleep patterns increase the risk of accidents on and off the road, but not getting ample rest or oversleeping increase your risk factors for developing stroke and coronary heart disease. Optimizing your sleep is one of the most important lifestyle changes you can make after a heart attack. Tap into your body’s restorative powers by allowing yourself to sleep no fewer than 5 hours and no more than 8 hours per night on a consistent basis.

Rest your limbs after sitting for long periods of time upright and sedentary by taking frequent breaks, stretching, walking, and getting fresh air. Set time limits on work and physical activity. Eat heavy and spicy meals in moderation no later than 6 hours before bedtime to prevent frequent trips to the bathroom while you should be getting sound sleep. If you battle with insomnia, consult a mental health professional or health care provider for helpful options and treatment.

Control Stress Levels

Stress is a necessary part of life. But too much stress aggravates heart conditions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and can trigger a heart attack. Stress signals your body to pump adrenaline through your blood, which causes an increased heart rate and a rise in blood pressure.

Chronic stress breeds poor heart-health habits such as smoking, subpar diet, alcoholism, and drug abuse, all of which gravely increase your risk of heart failure. There is a direct correlation between drug abuse or excessive alcohol use and heart disease. These behaviors can contribute to heart tissue damage, increased stroke risk factors, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Take a mindfulness approach to control your thoughts in order to counter adverse psychological and somatic reactions to stress. Suffering a life-altering illness like a heart attack has a tremendous effect on your physical, as well as mental health. Resist isolating yourself. Get into the habit of talking about your post-heart attack experiences with therapists, friends, and loved ones.

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