Here’s how long to wait before having sex, driving, and more.
It’s common for people who’ve survived a heart attack to separate their lives into two chapters: before the heart attack and after the heart attack. “Having a heart attack—even if you have normal heart muscle function afterward—is a life-changing experience for a patient,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director at NYU Langone Health, Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health.
Many heart attack survivors treat the event as a catalyst to make important heart-healthy lifestyle changes that can prevent a second attack. “That’s the moment where a patient is willing to hear about not smoking anymore, not drinking anymore, leading a more healthy lifestyle,” says Michelle Weisfelner Bloom, MD, cardiologist at Stony Brook University Medical Center. But even if you feel motivated to start exercising more … is it safe to do so?
How quickly you can resume activity after a heart attack depends on a few factors, according to Dr. Weisfelner Bloom. Your doctor will make recommendations for you based on your personal risk factors, the severity of the heart attack, and the extent of the damage to the heart.
The Benefits of Cardiac Rehabilitation
Your first step after a heart attack is likely something called cardiac rehabilitation. This is a medically supervised program that focuses on exercise, nutrition, and stress management, and it’s covered by most insurance plans.
Around 20 percent of heart attack survivors have a second attack within the following five years, according to the American Heart Association. Programs like cardiac rehab can help reduce that risk. In fact, a 2015 study found that the more sessions of cardiac rehab a patient attended, the more likely they were to stick to treatments and avoid having another heart attack.
In addition to improving the physical health of your heart, cardiac rehab can also make you feel more in control of your heart health. “That helps relieve some of the anxiety,” says Dr. Goldberg.
Exercising After a Heart Attack
After a heart attack, it might seem tempting to avoid working your heart and skip your workouts, go on shorter walks with your dog, or take the elevator instead of the stairs. It may sound counterintuitive, but exercise is encouraged post-heart attack. “It’s actually part of the remedy because it will make your heart stronger again,” says Joan Pagano, exercise physiologist in New York City.
Heart attacks can happen to people from all ends of the activity level spectrum, and cardiac rehab can meet you where you are and help you get moving again.
Many patients find cardiac rehab helpful and supportive, especially when it comes to exercising. “I had to slowly just start increasing my activity level,” says Dawn Blatt, a heart attack survivor. “Cardiac rehab was really helpful to see how far I could push myself.” Learn more about exercise after a heart attack here.
Sex Life After a Heart Attack
The risk of having a heart attack during sexual activity is pretty low. The exertion on your heart only occurs during orgasm, according to Harvard Medical School, which (for better or worse) only lasts a few seconds.
“A lot of my patients ask, ‘Well, when is it okay for me to go back to a normal sex life?’” says Rachel Bond, MD, cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. “Typically, after a heart attack, I say that they should follow up with their doctor about one to two weeks after.”
After a heart attack, your doctor may consider a few things. For example, if you can pass a stress test without experiencing angina, sex is probably safe for you. (Learn more about how a stress test works and what angina is.)
Put another way, “having sex is equivalent to climbing two flights of stairs,” says Dr. Goldberg. “If you can do that, you can probably have sex.”
Other Activities to Be Cautious of After a Heart Attack
Returning to work, playing with kids or grandkids, driving, and resuming hobbies can all carry some risks after a heart attack. Overall, the rule of thumb is to check with your doc first.
Many patients return to work as early as two weeks after having a heart attack, according to AHA. Some may take closer to three months, and others may change careers to something a little easier on their heart.
Another common concern is driving since it may pose a safety hazard. “Once you see the doctor [and] you feel back to how you were before the heart attack, we say it’s safe for you to go back to driving again,” says Dr. Bond.
Emotional Recovery After a Heart Attack
As you think about returning to your everyday activities, don’t forget to nurture your mental health as well. Feeling stressed or depressed after a heart attack is very normal.
“We know that treating stress, anxiety, and depression [for someone] who’s had a recent heart attack helps improve their ability to go out and engage with their family,” says Dr. Goldberg, “as well as return to exercise.” (Check out how heart attack survivor Bob Harper prioritizes stress management.)
“You should take it slow; you should really listen to your doctors,” says Dr. Weisfelner Bloom. “You will get back to your regular life in most cases, but you just have to be mindful about how quickly or how slowly to do that.”
Dr. Goldberg is a cardiologist and medical director of the NYU Langone Health Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health.Michelle Weisfelner Bloom
Dr. Bloom is an associate professor of medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center, a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, and a fellow of the Heart Failure Society of America.Joan Pagano
Joan Pagano is an exercise physiologist in New York City.Rachel Bond
Dr. Bond is a cardiologist and associate director of the Women's Heart Health Program at Northwell Health, Lenox Hill Hospital and an assistant professor of cardiology at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine.
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Having a heart attack,
even if you have normal heart muscle
00:00:07,373 --> 00:00:12,140
function is a life changing experience for
00:00:12,140 --> 00:00:15,990
And they're really anxious
about returning to work,
00:00:15,990 --> 00:00:19,640
returning to their family, exercise.
00:00:19,640 --> 00:00:22,144
And even if they can return to having sex.
00:00:25,905 --> 00:00:29,198
I find as a cardiologist,
that those few moments, and
00:00:29,198 --> 00:00:33,852
few days after a person has a heart attack
while they're still in the hospital
00:00:33,852 --> 00:00:39,070
are not only a very vulnerable period,
but also a teachable period for patients.
00:00:39,070 --> 00:00:45,240
That's the moment where a patient is
willing to hear about not smoking anymore,
00:00:45,240 --> 00:00:49,350
not drinking anymore,
leading a more healthy life style,
00:00:49,350 --> 00:00:52,750
working toward weight loss,
and a healthier way of living.
00:00:52,750 --> 00:00:57,790
Usually, we refer a person to
cardiac rehabilitation because
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that helps relieve some of the anxiety.
00:01:00,450 --> 00:01:05,530
Cardiac rehabilitation is
an organized program of exercise,
00:01:05,530 --> 00:01:10,885
nutrition, and stress management, and
it's covered by most insurance plans.
00:01:10,885 --> 00:01:14,765
Either in patients that
haven't been active at all, or
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patients that have been super active and
very, very fit.
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Both of those patients don't know how
much they can do after a heart attack.
00:01:23,135 --> 00:01:24,895
It's really important to exercise.
00:01:24,895 --> 00:01:27,275
Even though you might
be concerned about it,
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it is actually part of the remedy cuz
it will make your heart stronger again.
00:01:31,610 --> 00:01:35,910
During my recovery process,
I was just still trying to kinda
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wrap my head around the fact
that I had had a heart attack.
00:01:38,512 --> 00:01:42,870
And then, I had slowly just start
increasing my activity level.
00:01:42,870 --> 00:01:46,730
Cardiac rehab was really helpful to
see how far I could push myself.
00:01:46,730 --> 00:01:49,570
A lot of my patients ask,
well when is it okay for
00:01:49,570 --> 00:01:52,510
me to go back to a normal sex life?
00:01:52,510 --> 00:01:54,770
And typically after a heart attack,
00:01:54,770 --> 00:01:59,860
I say that they should follow up with
their doctor about 1-2 weeks after.
00:01:59,860 --> 00:02:04,370
Basically, having sex is equivalent
to climbing two flights of stairs.
00:02:04,370 --> 00:02:07,350
If you can do that,
you can probably have sex.
00:02:07,350 --> 00:02:08,850
The same goes for driving.
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Once you see the doctor, if you're
noticing that you're feeling fine,
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you feel back to how you were
before the heart attack.
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We say it's safe for
you to go back to striving again.
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It's really, really important
though that these decisions
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are individually based on the patient.
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What the risk factors are,
how big the heart attack was,
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how much damage there was to the heart?
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we can't make a blanket statement about
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how active patients should be
immediately after a heart attack.
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It's very common to feel anxious,
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even depressed after a heart attack
because it's a life changing experience.
00:02:44,670 --> 00:02:49,910
We know that treating stress, anxiety and
depression, and the setting of someone
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who is had a recent heart attack,
helps improve their ability to go out and
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engage with their family as
well as return to exercise.
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Just because you had a heart attack
doesn't mean your life is over.
00:03:04,490 --> 00:03:08,250
And that doesn't mean
that you can't do and
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continue to do the normal things you were
doing before you had a heart attack.
00:03:11,660 --> 00:03:16,150
You should take it slow, you should
really listen to your doctors, and
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you will get back to your
regular life in most cases.
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But you just have to be mindful about
how quickly or how slowly to do that.
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Doll JA, Hellkamp A, Thomas L, Ho PM, Kontos MC, Whooley MA, Boyden TF, Peterson ED, Wang TY. Effectiveness of cardiac rehabilitation among older patients after acute myocardial infarction. Am Heart J. 2015 Nov;170(5):855-64.
How will I benefit from cardiac rehab? Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on April 13, 2021 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiacRehab/How-Will-I-Benefit-from-Cardiac-Rehab_UCM_487774_Article.jsp#.WtYBApM-fVo.)
How will I recover from my heart attack? Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on April 17, 2018 at http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300318.pdf.)
Life after a heart attack. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on April 13, 2021 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/LifeAfteraHeartAttack/Life-After-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_487069_Article.jsp?appName=WebApp#.WtXvf5M-fVo.)
Resuming sex after a heart attack. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Medical School. (Accessed on April 17, 2018 at https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/resuming-sex-after-a-heart-attack.)Sex and heart disease. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on April 17, 2018 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Sex-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_436414_Article.jsp?appName=WebApp#.WtYIW5M-fVo.)