On February 12, 2017, health expert Bob Harper experienced a near-fatal heart attack during his usual gym workout, which turned his whole life upside down. “I never thought that I was going to have a heart attack,” says Harper. “When I woke up in the hospital two days after my heart attack, being told what had happened to me, I couldn’t believe it.”
Since his heart attack, the former The Biggest Loser trainer (already a serious health inspiration) has made even more changes and discoveries about how he lives his life. “I didn’t know that I would be likely to have another heart attack within the first year. That was a huge wakeup call for me and that’s when I really decided that I was going to do whatever my doctors told me to do,” says Harper. “It’s a whole new life for me right now.”
By using his fitness and health expertise, post-heart attack learnings, and doctor’s advice, Harper has crafted a much heart-healthier life. Here are six of the biggest changes Harper made to his lifestyle post-heart attack.
1. He eats a balanced, low-fat diet. Harper’s post-heart attack diet is mostly plant-based and inspired by the heart-healthy Mediterranean way of eating—colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and monounsaturated fats like nuts and avocado. “I used to be very much a high-protein, high fat-type diet, and now there’s a lot more balance. It’s low fat, definitely under my doctors recommendation,” says Harper. Here, read more about Harper’s post-heart attack diet.
2. He works out less intensely. To regain his strength and confidence, Harper knew he had to make some changes to his famously intense fitness routine. Before his heart attack, Harper was all about the high-intensity workouts. “I’ve always been a CrossFit guy, so my workouts have been very intense—that has changed,” says Harper.
Harper’s workouts today are longer and more mid-level intensity. “I’m doing a lot more yoga, I’m doing cycling classes, [and] boxing. I don’t rely on those high-intensity, shorter time domain workouts anymore,” says Harper. “Fitness is still super important to me, but it doesn’t define me the way it used to.” Read more about Harper’s exercise regimen after his heart attack.
3. He prioritizes stress management. “If you don’t manage your stress, everything else will fall apart like a house of cards,” says Harper. To manage his stress (and help prevent future cardiac events or complications), Harper now uses transcendental meditation twice a day and yoga. Another key stress reliever? His furry friends. “I have two dogs that are really there for me emotionally.” Read more about Harper’s outlook on stress management.
4. He’s not afraid to ask for help. Harper says he’s always been the guy in control, and being able to relinquish it and accept help from others was a challenge. “I really had to rely on my meditation, I had to rely on the support that I got from my doctors, [and] support that I got from my friends and family, to get me through the toughest time of my life,” says Harper. “It was hard, it was challenging, it was humbling, but it really helped me.”
5. He owns his emotions. Harper went through a rollercoaster of emotions after his heart attack, many of which he didn’t expect to feel. In fact, studies show that up to a third of heart attack patients develop some degree of depression after their cardiac event, according to the American Heart Association. “You get to the point where you’re physically feeling much better, but emotionally you’re going through so much. It’s not just about the physicality, but it’s the emotional aspect of it all too,” says Harper. Here’s more on how Harper coped emotionally with this heart attack.
6. He practices gratitude. “Some of the things that I do every single day is, I find the joy in my life, I find the joy in that day, and the gratitude. I’ve been given a second chance of life. I know that sounds kind of dramatic, but it’s what I really do believe in now. I know how precious this life is. I understand that it can be gone in an instant,” says Harper.
Since his heart attack, Harper’s not only made some serious changes to his already-healthy lifestyle, but he’s also adamant about maintaining a good relationship with his doctors and putting his learnings to good use. That’s why he’s teamed up with the awareness and advocacy cause Survivors Have Heart (supported by AstraZeneca), which helps educate other heart attack survivors on the importance of working with their healthcare provider and staying committed to treatment and the lifestyle plan prescribed by their doctor.