Of the roughly 790,000 Americans who have a heart attack each year, 210,000 occur in people who’ve already had a previous cardiac episode. The vast majority of subsequent heart attacks are caused by known risk factors, many of which can be reduced or controlled.
Making lifestyle changes to lower your risk factors lessens your chances of having another heart attack, and helps you look and feel better overall.
Keep in mind that adopting lasting lifestyle changes requires setting SMART goals. When you begin your lifestyle makeover, make sure the challenges you set are:
Here are a few changes you can make in your daily life to keep your heart healthy.
1. Up your food game
A healthy diet is one of the best ways to combat cardiovascular disease. You can begin by tracking how many calories you consume daily with a calorie counter app like MyFitnessPal. Determine how many calories you need in order to lose or maintain your weight and stay within that range each day.
Skip foods that have very few nutrients and a lot of calories. Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Try to avoid processed foods, which tend to be high in sodium and sugar, and consume alcohol in moderate amounts.
Instead, eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean proteins, and healthy oils.
2. Move more
Cardiovascular exercise can seem like a miracle potion. It strengthens your heart and lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also acts as a stress reliever and mood enhancer.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both. Whether you decide to walk, run, swim, ride your bike, or even engage in extreme housework, you can improve your health.
Be sure to get the all-clear from your doctor before lacing up your running shoes.
3. Make the mind-body connection
Maintaining a positive attitude can benefit your health in many ways. If you have a positive outlook about your treatment after a heart attack, including any lifestyle changes, this can reduce your risk of heart problems.
After a heart attack, you’ll likely experience a wide range of emotions, including depression and anxiety. These emotions can make it more difficult to implement and maintain habits that will greatly improve your health. That’s why it’s important to discuss mental health issues with your doctor, as well as physical ones.
4. Kick some butt
Smoking adversely impacts your cardiovascular system in a number of ways. It can damage the function of your heart and blood vessels, and prevent oxygen-rich blood from getting to your organs and other body parts. As a result, smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack.
If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about finding a plan to help you quit. If you have friends or family who smoke, try to avoid breathing in secondhand smoke from them as well.
5. Maintain a healthy weight
Carrying extra weight requires your heart to work harder, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood sugar, this can increase your risk even more. Introduce exercise and diet modifications into your life to lose weight and lower your risk factors.
6. Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol
Elevated blood pressure or hypertension stresses your heart and blood vessels. Regular exercise, a low-sodium diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can work wonders.
Your doctor may also recommend beta-blockers to help control your blood pressure. Statins are frequently prescribed to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — the “bad” cholesterol that increases your risk for heart disease.
7. Get help from your friends
Recovery can be a difficult journey, but there’s no reason to go it alone. Your friends can help you navigate the difficult road ahead. Meeting other heart attack survivors and joining a local or national support group can provide the support and camaraderie you need to deal with your emotional ups and downs.
There’s no time like now to get started on your heart health makeover journey. You only need to begin with a single step.