Heart attack recovery: Diet and exercise after heart attack

Heart attack recovery: Diet and exercise after heart attackEvery year, over 700,000 Americans suffer a heart attack, but diet and exercise can slow or even reverse some of the adverse effects. Adopting lifestyle changes to protect yourself from further complications is also well worth the effort.

Countless studies have shown that a diet that curbs bad cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, and lowers blood sugar can be beneficial to people who have suffered heart disease. According to doctors and dieticians, the best approach for heart attack patients is to concentrate on what they can eat, not just what they should not eat. Research has indicated that heart-saving foods are just as important to diet after a heart attack as cutting back on certain food items.


Recovering from a heart attack normally takes several months, and while diet after a heart attack is an important part of the recovery, exercise after a heart attack is also something that needs careful attention. It is important not to rush your rehabilitation and follow the instructions provided by your doctors, nurses, dieticians and physical therapists. Post-heart-attack care, which is closely monitored, is geared towards restoring your strength so you can return to normal activity. This is called cardiac rehabilitation. It also focuses on reducing your risk of having another heart attack.

If a person doesn’t experience pain or other problems following a heart attack, they can often return to normal activities within weeks, including walking and having sex. In some states, driving can begin within weeks for those who don’t have chest pain. It is important to get the green light from your doctor though.

Foods to eat and avoid after a heart attack

Putting together an after-heart-attack diet plan is one of the first steps your doctor will suggest. While it may sound like a tedious task, you might be pleasantly surprised at the number of foods that you like and can still enjoy.

A diet for heart attack patients really resembles the type of diet we should all be following. As the American Heart Association points out, a variety of nutritious foods from all food groups is good for our overall wellbeing, not just our heart. The Association does contend that heart disease patients have to pay special attention to what they eat.

Here are some foods those who have suffered a heart attack should consider:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Whole grain products
  • Skinless poultry and fish
  • Non-tropical oils, such as olive, safflower, soybean, and sunflower
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Dark chocolate
  • Soy

Adjusting cooking methods can also be helpful. For example, poaching, steaming, and baking are all healthier ways to prepare food.

Now let’s look at some foods to avoid after heart attack:

  • Foods high in saturated or trans fat (fried foods, fast food, baked goods)
  • Foods high in sugar or salt (canned foods, processed foods, potato chips, chocolate cake, and ice cream)
  • Foods high in cholesterol (meats, eggs, and butter)

After a heart attack, you need to avoid foods that have a lot of saturated fats and trans fats, because these fats can build up in the blood and eventually clog or block your blood vessels, thus leading to another attack. Salt can cause blood pressure to rise and increase the risk of a heart attack. Most of you have likely heard that cholesterol is a contributor to heart disease, and this is why heart attack patients have to be careful about their cholesterol levels. Produced by the liver, cholesterol is basically a material that is much like fat. It clogs arteries and can cause them to harden. If you have had a heart attack, you should limit your intake to less than 300 mg of cholesterol per day.

Many people have reported doing well with the Mediterranean diet following a heart attack. It includes a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, fresh fish, and a very limited amount of meat or dairy.

Exercise and physical activity after a heart attack

It’s important to understand that exercise after heart attack is different for each patient. The rehabilitation time varies from one person to another. Often, it depends on what shape a person was in before the heart attack occurred and how much damage the person sustained during the heart episode. Most patients do need some sort of cardiac rehabilitation. Patients who go through cardiac rehabilitation programs tend to have a faster recovery and a better outcome in the long run.

Here are some basic guidelines when it comes to cardiac rehab:

  • Begin slowly, increasing your walking pace gradually. If you feel out of breath, then slow down.
  • Remember to cool down at the end of exercising by walking slower
  • If walking outside, walk with someone
  • Talk to your doctor before lifting weights
  • If you notice any symptoms, such as shortness of breath, pain, or palpitations, stop exercising and contact your doctor right away.

Participating in exercise following a heart attack can cause some people stress, which of course is not good for you. Enrolling in an outpatient rehabilitation program is a good way to develop the best exercise program and give you the confidence that you are going about it the safest way possible. Many cardiac programs also include experts who can guide you on lifestyle changes, including a heart healthy diet.

Lifestyle changes and prevention tips to manage heart attack

There is other post-heart-attack precautions you can take to help keep yourself on a healthier path. For example, it makes sense to find ways to manage your stress since it can increase your blood pressure. Deep breathing, meditation, and even yoga are options. Another suggestion is to get sufficient sleep. Our bodies repair themselves while we are sleeping. When people follow a set bedtime routine and eliminate distractions like televisions, laptops, and cellphones, they have a better chance of getting a good sleep.

Dieticians insist that preventing heart attacks isn’t just about avoiding certain foods or incorporating nutritious foods into the diet, it is about managing portions. Figure out how much you are consuming and how much you really need to consume.


Tobacco use is a major risk factor for heart disease, so if you are a smoker, ask your doctor to help you with a plan to quit. You should also try to avoid secondhand smoke. Talking to your doctor about how to control your blood pressure or your cholesterol if either are issues is equally important. Sometimes, a minor lifestyle adjustment can address a blood pressure or cholesterol concern. There is also a possibility that the doctor will prescribe a medication to help control the problem.

Of the 700,000 Americans who suffer a heart attack every year, about 200,000 have already had a heart attack. After-heart-attack symptoms can vary, but include chest pain, chest discomfort, chest pressure, trouble breathing, abdominal discomfort that feels like heartburn, or discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, or back. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Related: Mild heart attack: Symptoms, treatment, and precautions



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