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Coming back from a heart attack

A middle-aged man and woman hug.

After you’ve had a heart attack, your road to recovery begins. Get a glimpse of what to expect along with some of the healthy habits you may need to start.

About every 40 seconds, someone in this country has a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Fortunately, tens of thousands survive these serious events. What's more, a good many go on to live long and active lives.

If you've recently had a heart attack, you can take comfort knowing that a full recovery is possible. But it does take time and some lifestyle changes too.

How long does recovery take?

A heart attack damages the heart. How long it will take you to recover depends, in part, on how much damage was done. Unless you've had complications as a result of your heart attack, you can probably resume many of your usual activities within a few weeks, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

No two people recover at exactly the same pace. Sometimes healing can take a few months. Ask your doctor when you can safely resume activities like working, driving and sex.

Heart-healthy changes

Following a heart attack, it's important to reduce your risk of another. Lifestyle changes and medicines can help. Here are eight healthy habits to consider:

1. Adopt a heart-healthy diet. Keep it low in saturated and trans fats but rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Switch to low-fat dairy products. Choose skinless poultry, fish, beans and the leanest cuts of meat. Cut back on sweets, sugary drinks, sodium and salty foods.

2. Be physically active. Your exercise program should include aerobic activities, like walking, swimming and cycling. They're good for your heart. Ask your doctor how much exercise you need and how to safely get started.

3. Maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight varies from person to person. You can use this body mass index (BMI) calculator to see if you're at a healthy weight. Your BMI is based on your height and current weight. Talk with your doctor about your results and what you can do to reach a healthy weight.

4. Quit smoking. Make a cessation plan if you smoke.

5. Take the recommended medications. For example, you may need beta blockers to lessen your heart's workload, statins to lower cholesterol, and drugs to lower your blood pressure and prevent blood clots. Follow your doctor's instructions carefully.

6. Go to cardiac rehab. Studies show that cardiac rehab helps heart attack survivors live longer. During cardiac rehab, you exercise to help your heart recover and learn healthy changes, like eating right. You'll also get help reducing stress, which can be hard on the heart.

7. Express your emotions. Depression is common after a heart attack. You may also feel angry or afraid that you'll have another. In time, those emotions should pass, the AHA reports. But it's important to tell your doctor how you feel right now. Depression can get in the way of recovery.

Remember to talk to your family too. Having your loved ones' support can also make it easier to recover from your heart attack.

8. Monitor your symptoms. Once you've had a heart attack, you're at risk for another. That makes it important for you and your family to know the signs of another heart attack and when to seek medical help.

But take heart. If you do the things your doctor advises, you should be able to lower your risk for another heart attack and get back to living your life.

Reviewed 10/31/2022

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