Lifestyle Changes to Prevent a Heart Attack

The First 90 Days After a Heart Attack: Life After a Heart Attack

Your lifestyle is your best defense against heart disease and stroke. By following these simple steps you can reduce the modifiable risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.   

Stop smoking

If you smoke, quit. If someone in your household smokes, encourage them to quit. We know it's tough. But it's tougher to recover from a heart attack or stroke or to live with chronic heart disease. Commit to quit. We're here to help if you need it.

Find plans, tips and tools to help you quit.

Choose good nutrition

A healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight heart disease. The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other controllable risk factors: cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose levels and weight. Choose nutrient-rich foods — which have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories — over nutrient-poor foods. Choose a healthy diet high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Include low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry, fish, legumes, nontropical vegetable oils and nuts. And limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, red and processed meats, added sugars, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium. To maintain a healthy weight, coordinate your diet with your physical activity level so you're using up as many calories as you take in.

Learn how to eat healthy.

High blood cholesterol

You've got to reduce your intake of saturated fat, avoid trans fat and get moving. If diet and physical activity alone don't get those numbers down, then medication may be the key.

  • Total cholesterol
    Your total cholesterol score is calculated using the following equation: HDL + LDL + 20% of your triglyceride level.

  • Low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol = "bad" cholesterol
    A low LDL cholesterol level, less than 70 mg/dL, is considered good for your heart health. However, your LDL number should not be the main factor in guiding treatment to prevent heart attack and stroke. Your health care professional may recommend lifestyle changes and medication to lower your LDL if you have an increased risk for heart disease or stroke. 

  • High-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol = "good" cholesterol
    With HDL (good) cholesterol, higher levels are typically better. Low HDL cholesterol puts you at higher risk for heart disease. People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol. Genetic factors, type 2 diabetes, smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol.

  • Triglycerides
    Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. Normal triglyceride levels vary by age and sex. A high triglyceride level combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol is associated with atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls that increases the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Learn more about cholesterol.

Lower high blood pressure

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke. Shake that salt habit, take your medications and get moving. Those numbers need to get down and stay down. The optimal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

Learn more about high blood pressure.

Be physically active

Sit less and move more. Try to be physically active every day. Research has shown that at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level. And something IS better than nothing. If you're inactive now, start out slow. Even a few minutes at a time may offer some health benefits.

Learn more about physical activity and fitness.

Aim for a healthy weight

Eating too many calories and getting too little physical activity can increase your risk of becoming overweight or obese. Many people have a hard time losing weight. But even modest weight loss (5% to 10% of body weight) can help reduce your risk. Weight loss can help improve high blood pressure and cholesterol. It also can help control diabetes. Good nutrition, controlling calorie intake and being physically active can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Learn more about weight management.

Manage diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic (lifelong) condition. Even when blood glucose levels are kept under control, diabetes greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. If you have diabetes, regular medical checkups are critical to help keep blood sugar under control. Work with your health care team to develop healthy eating habits, control your weight and get regular physical activity. You also may need medicines to help control your blood sugar or insulin levels. 

Learn more about diabetes.

Get enough sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep every night is vital to your heart health. The amount and quality of sleep you get can influence your eating habits, mood, memory, internal organs and more. Too much or too little can be harmful. Adults should aim for an average of 7 to 9 hours a night.  You can improve the quality of your sleep by being physically active during the day, establishing a bedtime routine, keeping your electronic devices out of the bedroom.

Learn about healthy sleep.

Reduce stress

Stress may contribute to poor health behaviors, such as smoking or smoking more, overeating and not being physically active. And chronic stress may lead to high blood pressure. All of these factors can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercising regularly, making time for friends and family, and practicing relaxation techniques.

Get stress management tips and tools

Limit alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, increase cardiomyopathy, stroke, cancer and other diseases. It can contribute to high triglycerides and produce irregular heartbeats. Excessive alcohol consumption also contributes to obesity, alcoholism, suicide and accidents.

If you don’t drink, don’t start. If you drink, limit yourself to one drink per day if you’re a woman, two drinks if you’re a man. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines one drink as 1-1/2 fluid ounces (fl oz) of 80-proof spirits (such as bourbon, Scotch, vodka, gin, etc.), 5 fl oz of wine, or 12 fl oz of regular beer. 

Read our recommendation on alcohol.

Mindfulness Tip from a Heart Attack Survivor

Dina Pinelli - Heart Attack Survivor and member of the 2023 Go Red for Women Real Women Class of Survivors

“Practicing mindfulness meditation and yoga help to steady my mind and allow me to attune to the sensation in my body keeping me focused on just this breath, just this moment. When the world around me is swirling and things feel out of control, I’m reminded to pause, connect to my heart and allow my breath to flow gently, releasing anxiety and worry and calling in strength and peace.”

Real Women Class 2023 Dina Pinelli doing yoga outside

Support That Empowers

Recovery becomes so much more manageable when you have the right kind of emotional support. Our online community of patients, survivors and caregivers is here to keep you going no matter the obstacles. We’ve been there, and we won’t let you go it alone.
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