Living through a heart attack is traumatic. The following weeks and months contain a variety of emotions including depression, fear, and anger. The biggest concern is what’s next. Most people have one pressing question, “How can I stop this from ever happening again?”
Most Americans survive their first heart attack, but they’ll now face the reality that they are much more likely to experience another one. We’ve outlined some prevention methods to implement to help avoid future heart attacks.
(Wondering what to expect during your first scan? This free guide will walk you through the process step by step.)
1. Quit Smoking
The most important first step to prevent a second heart attack is quitting smoking, it can reduce your risk by half. Smoking damages the lining of the arteries, which results in a buildup of fatty materials. Your heart also has to work harder to replenish the oxygen that you lose from smoking.
Quitting is easier said than done, especially if it is a habit you’ve had for years (or decades). Luckily, there are many support groups and community resources to find the help you need to quit. It also helps to have an accountability program and ask your family to support your efforts to quit.
Here are some helpful Tulsa resources to stop smoking:
- Oklahoma 1-866-PITCH-EM (748-2436)
- Clear Direction at Saint Francis
- 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)
2. Commit to a Heart-Healthy Diet
Dieting can sometimes feel like an out-of-reach goal, but it doesn't have to be an impossible lifestyle change. Dieting comes in several forms.
You can start to work on smaller portion sizes. Several small meals throughout the day can be better for your health than three large meals. Do your best to cut down on your sodium intake and increase your intake of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Commit to eating less junk food. Unless your doctor tells you to cut it out completely, just reducing the amount of chips and sweets you consume will work wonders for your body. Substitute candy for baby carrots, and satisfy your need for crunchy chips with broccoli and cauliflower. Instead of a 500-calorie snack, you are eating maybe a 50-calorie snack.
Many diet programs have the option of joining a group of like-minded individuals who look out for one another while sharing tips and tricks to enjoy food while remaining health conscious. Having a support group can help you stick to a plan better than trying to simply follow orders from your doctor.
3. Incorporate Exercise into Your Daily Routine
Exercise and diet is the dynamic duo that leads to a healthy heart. It can be another daunting task for many who aren't normally active. Exercise isn’t impossible. Simple things like walking, swimming or other types of light exercise every day is better than being sedentary.
Going to the gym doesn't have to mean trying to outlift the others around you. Do what you can, and talk with a staff member to find out what exercises would work best for you.
But, you can get more exercise than most by just getting outside. Go and take your dog for a walk. If you don't have a dog, your neighbor may have one who needs a walk.
Swimming is great because it is a full-body low impact workout. If you go early enough to the pool, you can beat the crowds and take a dip in the freshwater.
It is important to speak with your doctor before you start a new exercise program, and look out for warning signs that you’re pushing too hard like:
- Shortness of breath that lasts for more than 10 minutes
- Chest pain
- Pain in your arms, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Feeling dizzy
- An abnormally rapid heart rate
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weakness or swelling in your legs
4. Consider Your Mental Health
Anxiety, depression, stress, and anger can cause undue stress on your heart. You might feel all of these things after a heart attack because you’ll likely have to miss some work, you’ll need to participate in rehab as your heart heals and you might have some worrisome medical bills. It’s important that you have someone you can trust that you can talk with to share your frustrations.
Exercise will also help reduce stress, but it’s also advisable to speak with a professional if you’re experiencing debilitating anxiety or depression.
5. Lower Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can damage your arteries and lead to further complications. You’ll want to keep your blood pressure in a range your doctor feels appropriate. To achieve this, you might need medication, but the same lifestyle changes like healthy diet and exercise coupled with quitting smoking and limiting caffeine should also help control your blood pressure.
6. Control Your Cholesterol
Your healthcare provider may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medicine. It's important to take this medicine as prescribed.
There are other methods to improve your cholesterol too, such as reducing saturated fats, eliminating trans fats, eat more omega-3 fatty acids, increase soluble fiber and try to incorporate whey protein into your meals. The goal is to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol while keeping healthy levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
There is a lot you can do to help avoid future heart attacks, and your doctor may have a few additional recommendations to offer.
You can also schedule a heart scan to learn about any concerning conditions earlier rather than later. Download our free guide to learn more before coming in for your first heart scan. To schedule an appointment, give us a call at (918) 879-6161.