Tips for Recovering and Staying Well After a Heart Attack

Last Updated April 2022 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Robert "Chuck" Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP

If you have had a heart attack, you may feel worried and overwhelmed. You probably have a lot of questions. There are many things to consider, starting with taking care of yourself. Look to those around you for help during this time. Talk to your doctor for specific advice or if you have any concerns.

Path to Improved Health

How soon can I return to regular activities?

After a heart attack, you will want to go back to your regular life. This is especially true if you were in the hospital. However, that depends on your work, recreation and sexual activity as well as the condition of your heart. Start slowly to give your heart a chance to heal. Your doctor will tell you when you can be active again and what you should do. Do not exercise without talking to your doctor first. Sign up for a cardiac rehabilitation program. This monitors your blood pressure, heart rate, and heartbeat as you exercise.

When can I go back to work?

The amount of time you are off from work varies. It depends on your heart health and how active and stressful your job is. You may have to make some changes in how you do your job. Or if work is too hard on your heart, you might have to switch jobs, at least for a short time. Your family doctor can work with you on your return to work.

Is it okay to drive?

Most people who have a heart attack can drive again after 1 week. Talk to your doctor about concerns or if you have other conditions that prevent you from driving safely. If you are a commercial driver, talk to your company before driving again. You may need clearance from your medical team before driving again.

Can I have sex?

After having a heart attack, you should wait 2 to 3 weeks before having sex again. As with other types of activity, you may need to start slow.

Tips for a Healthier Lifestyle

There are steps you can take to recover from a heart attack and prevent another one. This is known as “secondary prevention.” First, understand your type of heart disease. Your doctor will tell you risk factors and how to prevent future damage to your heart. Then, follow the tips below for a healthy lifestyle.

  • Stop smoking. Tobacco use is a major risk factor for heart disease. It damages the walls of the blood vessels. It can prevent blood and oxygen from reaching your heart and other organs. It also can cause blood clots, which may lead to heart attacks. Nicotine, the main chemical in tobacco, raises your blood pressure. If you smoke, ask your doctor for a plan to quit. In addition, avoid secondhand smoke. You can inhale smoke from a burning cigarette or when someone else exhales smoke.
  • Control your blood pressure.High blood pressure puts stress on your heart and blood vessels. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage your blood pressure. This includes exercising, a diet low in salt, and losing weight if you are overweight. Your doctor may also prescribe medicines to control your blood pressure. It is important to follow your doctor’s orders for all medicines.
  • Control your cholesterol levels.There are two types of cholesterol. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are “good” for you. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are “bad” for you. Too much “bad” cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. If you’ve had a heart attack, your doctor will prescribe medications to keep cholesterol levels in check. You also should eat a heart-healthy diet and start an exercise program.
  • Check for diabetes.Diabetes is a disease that has to do with your blood sugar levels. You can have Type 1 diabetes if your body doesn’t produce any insulin. You can have Type 2 diabetes if your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t use it correctly. Diabetes increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. Talk to your doctor about getting screened for diabetes. If you have diabetes, they can help you create a plan to manage your condition.
  • Regular cardio exercise can make your heart stronger. Examples include walking, jogging, running, bicycling, and swimming. Exercise helps your heart pump blood and deliver oxygen to your body. It can lower your cholesterol level and blood pressure. It also helps relieves stress. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help you lose weight. Being overweight is a risk factor of heart disease. Losing just 10% of your body weight can lower your risk. Talk to your doctor before starting or restarting exercise after a heart attack. He or she can monitor your activity and keep you on track.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.The food you eat affects your blood flow. A diet high in “bad” fats (saturated and trans fats) can cause buildup (plaque) in your arteries. Plaque slows or prevents blood flow to your heart. It can block your arteries and cause a heart attack or heart failure. Add foods to your diet that are low in cholesterol and saturated fats. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eat less red meat and more white meat and fish. Consume fewer high-fat dairy products. Cut down on salt (sodium) and sugar. Avoid fried and processed foods.
  • Control your stress level.Heart attacks can be scary and upsetting. Ask your doctor for advice about how to cope with your emotions. Depression and stress can increase your risk of heart disease. Depression and other mood changes are common after a heart attack. Your family doctor may screen for this. If detected, they may offer treatments including counseling and medications as appropriate.

Things to Consider

If you have had a heart attack, you are at higher risk for another one. It is important to know the warning signs. Seek emergency medical care if you have critical symptoms. These can occur while you are active or at rest, and include:

  • Chest pain (angina).
  • Tightness or pressure in your arms, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness, weakness, or fainting.
  • Pale, sweaty skin.
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Swelling or pain in your legs.
  • Sudden fatigue.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • After a heart attack, what is my risk of having another one?
  • What foods are considered to be heart-healthy?
  • What are the best ways to stop smoking?
  • What are the short- and long-term side effects of cardiac medicines?


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