Taking Care of Yourself

Updated:Aug 29,2016

Grandmother and granddaughter smiling with salad

The first days and weeks after you get out of the hospital after a cardiac event or diagnosis can be a frightening, confusing time. You may be taking new medicines and following many new instructions. You may sometimes feel as if your world has changed.

Focusing on three simple tasks can help you manage your condition while you recover and regain your strength:

Easy as 1-2-3

The goal of cardiac rehab is to help you learn to reduce the risk factors — such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, diabetes and being overweight — that increase your chances of future health problems.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have developed national guidelines to help you reduce the risk of future problems. These guidelines can help your doctor develop a treatment plan — including medicines and lifestyle changes such as diet and physical activity — for all your risk factors. Make sure you know your goal numbers and work with your healthcare team professionals to achieve them.

Risk Factor Goal
Smoking Quit for good
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disability in the United States. Cigarette smoking results in a much higher risk of dying of coronary heart disease. Smoking robs the heart of oxygen-rich blood and increases the effects of other risk factors, including blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and physical inactivity. Thinking about quitting? We can help.
Blood Pressure Less than 140/90 mm Hg
Less than 130/80 mm Hg if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease
Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg (systolic pressure is 120 AND diastolic pressure is less than 80). Prehypertension is systolic pressure from 120-139 systolic OR diastolic pressure from 80-89. High blood pressure is systolic pressure of 140 or higher OR diastolic pressure of 90 or higher.

When blood pressure is higher, your heart has to work harder. Changes in health habits such as losing weight, eating less sodium (salt) and enjoying regular physical activity can help lower blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, staying on your medicines is critical to prevent heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and heart failure.

Monitor your blood pressure as your doctor advises. Keep track of your readings with our blood pressure tracker.

Learn more about high blood pressure.

Blood Cholesterol Get your cholesterol checked and talk to your doctor about your numbers and how they impact your overall risk.
High blood cholesterol occurs if your body makes too much cholesterol or if you eat foods that have too much saturated fat and trans fat. For patients with coronary heart disease that are at high risk, treatment focuses on reducing cholesterol. To lower your cholesterol, you may need to change your eating habits and lose weight. Speak with your doctor to see if you should be taking a cholesterol medicine along with making these lifestyle changes. 

Get tips on managing your cholesterol.

Physical Activity At least 40 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (brisk walking, jogging, cycling, etc.) at least 3 to 4 days per week

Regular physical activity has many benefits such as helping you quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and increase HDL cholesterol. Doing aerobic exercise — using large muscles of the legs and arms — helps your heart work more efficiently. Physical activities to improve your strength, flexibility and balance help you stay agile as you age.

Learn more about getting active.

Weight Ideal body mass index (BMI) is 18.5–24.9 kg/m2
Waist circumference not more than 40 inches for men and not more than 35 inches for women (Recommendations are lower for people of Asian descent: 37–39 inches for men and 31–35 inches for women.)

Weight loss may help lower your blood pressure and improve both cholesterol and blood sugar. The tips and tools in this Web site can help you lose 5 to 10 pounds. Entering your height and weight in the Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator can help you determine if you're overweight. Your waist circumference also helps determine whether you need to lose weight — all you need is an ordinary measuring tape.

Learn more about eating right and losing weight.

Blood sugar (glucose) Normal fasting blood glucose of less than 100 mg/dL
Diabetes If you are diabetic, a HbA1c (glycosylated hemoglobin) at or below 6.5 to 7 percent
Managing diabetes is important to your long-term health, especially if you have heart disease. Diabetes is best controlled by diet, weight loss, physical activity, medicines and regular monitoring of your blood sugar. Many studies have shown that medicines such as statins, aspirin, ACE-inhibitors and beta-blockers, which lower the risk of future heart problems, have even greater benefit in people with diabetes. That's why it's important for you to start and continue taking these medicines. They will help to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, which will decrease your risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

Learn more about managing diabetes.

In this section you will find these articles:

This content was last reviewed July 2015.

Prevent a second heart attack

Interactive High Blood Pressure Guide

Interactive High Blood Pressure Guide

Find videos, trackers and more with our interactive HBP guide. The guide has tips to empower you to manage your blood pressure. Get started!
Also available as a downloadable PDF.