A heart attack changes your life and recovery takes time and commitment. The amount of effort you put into recovery will have a lasting impact on your quality of life.
UR Medicine cardiologist Dr. Seth Jacobson considers recovery a two-step process: immediate physical healing and then what you do to prevent it from happening again.
The Short Game
When you experience a heart attack, it changes your life. Suddenly there are new medications, new routines, and new physicians and caregivers working to help restore your physical health.
An essential part of the new routine is cardiac rehabilitation, a 36-week individualized education and exercise program to strengthen your heart and prevent another heart event. Rehabilitation specialists help you learn more about how your heart works, your risk factors for advanced heart disease and your medications. The exercises help reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which boosts your heart’s performance.
Studies show boosting heart function through cardiac rehab reduces the risk of a repeat heart attack or hospitalization by 25 percent. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of eligible people actually participate in such a program.
The Long Game
A heart attack is a great motivator for change. Survivors often mention their immediate fear for their family; remembering that moment helps them stay committed to preventing another one.
Here are some tips to promote long-term heart health:
- Eat well. Adopt a diet rich in plant-based foods, and low in sodium and fatty meats.
- Exercise regularly. You don't have to strain your body to benefit from exercise. Even moderate exercise, such as walking or housework for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, can improve your heart.
- Avoid tobacco. Stop smoking. Use resources to quit if you slip.
- Take medications as prescribed. Heart medications are not like antibiotics. You will need them for a long time.
- Reduce stress. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress. High levels of cortisol can increase cholesterol and blood pressure levels, which raise the risk of another heart attack.
- See your doctors regularly. Routine check-ups and steady communication are essential to follow your progress.
Cardiologist Seth Jacobson, M.D., is a member of UR Medicine Heart and Vascular’s Rochester Cardiopulmonary Group and medical director for cardiac rehabilitation at the University of Rochester Medical Center.