After the Heart Attack: Recovering from a cardiac event

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at least half of all Americans have at least one of three risk factors associated with heart attack or heart disease. These risk factors include poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.

All too often, these risk factors contribute to hundreds of thousands of cardiac events each year. For those lucky enough to survive, recovery can be a challenging process. The Cleveland Clinic, however, has found that patients who join a cardiac rehabilitation program will have a faster and safer recovery from a cardiac event.

Initially, a cardiac rehab program aims to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of another cardiac event. For the long-term, it’s all about making lifestyle changes to successfully return to daily activities and maintain a positive quality of life. If you or your loved one have experienced a heart attack or other cardiac event, there are important things to consider in recovery, especially when it comes to physical activity and nutrition.

Physical activity after a cardiac event

As a first step, be sure to get clearance from a physician before starting any physical activity after a cardiac event. A doctor’s assessment of your physical stamina will help to determine the type of fitness routine that will work for you in recovery. When starting a program, it’s always important to start slow. Over-doing a strenuous workout too soon can lead to injury or even relapse.

Walking for heart health

Walking has several health benefits and is a great exercise to start slowly with. Walking can help to reduce cardiac risk factors such as high cholesterol and obesity, and it’s also a wonderful choice for overall mental and physical health. You can gradually increase your walking pace and time as you continue to recover. As you build your endurance you should notice increased breathing, but still be able to carry a conversation.

Exercise should be done on a regular and consistent basis to see the benefits. As your recovery progresses you’ll be able to advance your workouts and incorporate other types of fitness such as biking or light weights, depending on your physical condition. Always check with your doctor if you’re unsure about trying more forms of exercise.  

Reducing risk factors with a healthy diet

According to the Heart Foundation, incorporating a healthy diet will help the body recover and reduce the risk of future heart events.

“It is important not to fall back into old habits. especially with your diet,” said Amy Julicher, director of nutritional services with Elderwood, a leading provider of subacute rehabilitation services. “Choosing vegetables, lean protein, fruit, low fat dairy, and whole grains over fried, high fat, and processed foods will help you maintain more healthy blood lipid levels, aid in desirable weight loss, and reduce inflammation.”

Diets that are higher in fatty foods and alcohol lead to an accumulation of abdominal fat. The proximity of these fats to the heart tend to cause more damage and stress to the vascular system and the heart itself. To reduce the risks associated with obesity, gradual weight loss and the avoidance of high fat foods is essential to allow the body’s tissues to recover and heal.

In terms of food selections, the Mediterranean diet is widely touted as beneficial for its nutritionally-sound foods such as legumes, fish, nuts, and vegetables. The real key is making healthy eating a lifestyle choice rather than a temporary fix for a chronic problem. Speaking with a registered dietitian is incredibly valuable in helping you develop a customized meal plan that is tailored to your lifestyle.

The importance of cardiac rehab
Everyone’s recovery is different, and rehabilitation is customized to the individual depending on the severity of their cardiac event. By taking slow steps to making physical activity and a balanced nutrition part of your lifestyle you can live a longer and healthier life.

Learn more about our cardiac rehabilitation services here.