Lifestyle changes and/or medications are the key to better heart health.
A heart attack can be scary, and you might fear having a second heart attack. These feelings are normal, but you can use them as motivation to reassess your lifestyle. Many risk factors for heart attacks are modifiable: They are things you can change. That means you have the power to make changes that can prevent a second heart attack.
Preventing a second heart attack boils down to three key things:
- Understanding your risk factors for another attack
- Making lifestyle changes
- Taking preventative medications, if necessary
Identifying + Managing Your Risk Factors
One of the ways you and your doctor can monitor your heart attack risk is by knowing your numbers. This means knowing heart health measurements, how they’re improving, and what the numbers mean. This includes:
- Blood sugar
- Blood pressure
- Cholesterol levels
- Weight or body mass index
Having higher-than recommended numbers in these categories increases the risk of a heart attack. You and your doctor will work together to improve these numbers and get them in a healthy range. This may include lifestyle changes and/or medication.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent a Second Heart Attack
Playing an active role in your treatment for heart disease can really lower your risk of another heart attack. One of the ways you’ll need to be the most active is with lifestyle changes. Although there are medications that can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors, lifestyle changes are one of your most powerful tools.
To lower your risk of a second heart attack, the following lifestyle changes are recommended:
- Eat a healthy diet: There’s no “one” bulletproof diet for good health, but experts recommend an eating pattern that focuses on plants. This means incorporating plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole gains, and nuts. You should limit saturated fat (which is found in animal foods like red meat and high-fat dairy). This type of fat is linked to high cholesterol and may worsen heart attack risk.
- Exercise regularly: Physical activity strengthens your heart (which is technically a muscle). It can also help you manage your weight and improve blood pressure and cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about how much and what types of exercise are safe after a heart attack.
- Quit smoking (or don’t start): Smoking hardens and narrows the arteries, which worsens heart disease. When you quit, the body is better able to heal to reduce the risk of another heart attack.
Lifestyle changes can be challenging. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or treatment team for tips or support with lifestyle changes for better heart health.
Medications for Heart Health
Depending on your risk level, your doctor may suggest medications to lower your risk. There are many medicines for reducing blood pressure and blood cholesterol, for example. You may be able to manage your risk with lifestyle changes alone. If not, medications can provide life-saving assistance to reduce your heart attack risk.
Eugenia Gianos, MD, is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.
- Being active when you have heart disease. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on February 3, 2021)
- Patient education: heart attack recovery (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2021. (Accessed on February 3, 2021)
- The American Heart Association diet and lifestyle recommendations. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on February 3, 2021)