Heart Attack Lifestyle Changes

About 1 in 5 people who have had a heart attack will be readmitted to the hospital for a second one within 5 years.

Helpful Highlights

  • Lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of a second heart attack or other heart conditions that can develop.

  • Helping your loved one to avoid developing depression, or quickly addressing depressive symptoms, is essential for avoiding further cardiac complications.

  • Medication management is also integral to improved long-term cardiac health.

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Lifestyle changes, broadly

Changes in lifestyle, such as a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking, and losing weight (among others) can help reduce the risk of a repeat heart attack. You and your loved one should talk with their cardiologist and primary health care provider about these necessary and safe lifestyle changes. Also check with your loved one's health plan, as there may be benefits available to support weight loss/management, exercise, and nutrition.

Lifestyle changes, specifically (and what you can do to help)

Eat a heart-healthy diet

  • Lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-sodium

  • Help your loved one make a grocery list

  • Assist with grocery shopping and healthy food choices

  • Teach your loved one how to read food labels

  • Learn more about quick and easy food choices 

Increase physical activity

  • 40 minutes of light or 20 minutes of moderate activity

  • Take long walks together

  • Encourage outings that involve walking, biking, swimming, hiking, or dancing

  • Explore yoga and tai chi

  • Look into senior programs like SilverSteps

Quit smoking, and all other tobacco products

  • Talk with a health care provider for assistance with smoking cessation, and check with your loved one's health plan for a smoking cessation benefit

  • Do not buy them tobacco products, look for nicotine replacement products instead

  • See content on Tips to Stop Smoking.

Manage stress, decompress

  • Encourage your loved one to share their feelings, candidly

    • When they're talking, stop and give them your undivided attention, listening to their concerns

  • Explore yoga, tai chi, aromatherapy, and meditation

  • Explore art and music therapy

  • Encourage hobbies, especially the development of new ones

  • Seek ways to make their daily activities safer and more efficient with home modifications, medication management methods, and more

Take medications as prescribed

  • All of them, every day, on time

  • Ensure that they receive refills and are stocked

  • Manage medication administration with a daily or weekly pill planner

  • Set alarms throughout the day to remind them when it's time to take their medications

  • Observe and monitor for any missed dosages and discuss them

Cardiac rehabilitation

  • Likely, your loved one will already be referred to cardiac rehab following their hospitalization for a heart attack, but if they are not, be sure to ask their cardiologist or primary care provider about it. Cardiac rehab is an important program for anyone recovering from a heart attack, heart failure, or other heart problem that requires surgery or medical care that includes exercise, education, and counseling.

Depression (and anxiety)

25% of people (1 in 4) who have had heart attacks experience depression. About the same number experience anxiety, which may contribute to the development of depression. Encourage your loved one to...

  • Share their feelings with you, inviting them to be honest and candid, and don't judge them for what they may say.

  • Speak with other heart attack survivors, whether that's in an organized support group or just others you or they may know.

  • Speak to a counselor about how they're coping with this life change and everything associated with it.

  • Have their primary care provider or cardiologist periodically conduct a depression screening.

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