According to the American Heart Association, about 735,000 people in the United States have a heart attack each year. But thanks to improved detection and treatment of heart disease, more people are surviving these attacks.
A heart attack is a life-changing event. But there’s good news: with proper rehabilitation and lifestyle changes, it’s possible to bounce back to full health. To get there, you’ll need to focus on the following:
- Diet – Traditionally, doctors have recommended limiting red meat, fat and salt after having a heart attack. While it’s important to limit these foods, I tell patients their main goal should be reducing the amount of sugar in their diet. That’s because sugar causes significant inflammation in the body and results in plaque build-up in your arteries, which increases your risk of having another heart attack. It’s also important to limit artificial sweeteners. Although a food may be labeled “no sugar added” it might still contain an artificial sweetener. Knowing these sweeteners by name can help you identify them.
There’s no single diet that I recommend patients follow but most should focus on eating vegetables and fruit, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts.
- Exercise – Although you may eventually be able to return to higher-impact exercise, such as running, it’s best to start out doing lower-impact activities, such as walking, resistance training or light weights. The most important thing is to find a workout or activity that you enjoy doing and that you can stick with over time. Start small, but work toward a goal of 150 minutes of moderate-level exercise per week.
- Emotional wellbeing – There’s more than just the physical aspects of recovery – you also need to address the emotional piece. Even though heart attacks can affect anyone, people are often surprised when it happens to them, and they may end up suffering from depression or anxiety after such a life-altering health event. One of the most important aspects of recovery is understanding you’re not alone in the process. Main Line Health cardiologists and providers follow patients throughout their recovery and beyond. We’re here for them every step of the way and they have peace of mind knowing they always have someone to reach out to if they have concerns or questions. We also have support groups available. Through the Women’s Heart Initiative, our Heart-to-Heart conversations group offers an open and supportive forum for women who have been diagnosed with heart disease or had a cardiac event.
Main Line Health offers an outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program for patients who recently suffered a heart attack. Participants attend three sessions a week for 12 weeks and receive an individualized plan that may include:
- Low-intensity aerobic exercise and strength training
- Monitoring of blood pressure and heart rhythm during exercise
- Education focused on nutrition, stress management, hypertension, diabetes and exercise
- A holistic approach to care that covers the full range of patient needs, from psychosocial to physical
Of patients who complete our cardiac rehabilitation program, 95 percent show improvement in functional ability and 100 percent of patients report overall improvement in their quality of life. Recovering from a heart attack is hard work – both physically and emotionally – but it’s possible to get back to enjoying your everyday activities and all life has to offer.