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Suffering a heart attack is often a life-changing event. For a survivor, it may mean a lifestyle overhaul, such as exercising more and eating better. These changes can be hard to make - but are often crucial. People who have a heart attack are at a higher risk for having another one. A heart-healthy diet may be one of the best defenses against such a recurrence.
It's important to be proactive in avoiding another heart attack. Doctors call this "secondary prevention." It typically includes lifestyle changes and medication to manage heart-related problems, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Patients may also enroll in cardiac rehabilitation, a program that teaches them how to improve their overall health.
You probably already know that eating a nutritious diet is good for preventing heart disease - and hence heart attacks - in the first place. But how important is it in secondary prevention? A recent international study in the journal Circulation highlights the value of such a diet.
In the study, researchers followed more than 31,000 people for an average of 4.5 years. Participants were older than age 55 and already had vascular disease or diabetes. Those who ate healthier diets were less likely to have a repeat heart-related event, such as a heart attack or stroke. This benefit was seen regardless of the type of medication patients were taking as a secondary prevention measure. The results reveal that diet is key in preventing future heart problems.
The foods you eat have a direct effect on your heart. In particular, foods high in fat can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, by raising levels of cholesterol in your blood. This plaque may rupture and form a clot that blocks blood flow in an artery in the heart muscle. The result: a heart attack.
So where do you start? Eat less saturated and trans fats. Foods high in such fats include red meat, fried and processed foods, dairy products made from whole milk, and baked goods. Another smart choice is to limit foods high in sodium and added sugar. Too much salt in your diet may be a factor in developing high blood pressure.
Build a better diet by eating more of these foods:
A variety of fruits and vegetables
Lean meats and skinless poultry
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and trout
Whole-grain foods with lots of fiber
Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
Beverages with little or no added sugar
Want to learn more about eating a heart-healthy diet? This article offers tips for cutting calories when you eat out.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.
(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)
American Heart Association - Heart Attack Recovery FAQs
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - Life After a Heart Attack
Most cardiac rehabilitation programs emphasize practicing an overall healthy lifestyle to cut the risk of future heart problems. Exercise is one key component. A typical cardiac rehab program might also include:
Guidance on how to eat healthy
Stress reduction techniques, such as relaxation training or deep breathing
Education on practical ways to manage your individual risk factors, including diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, and obesity
A physical examination, stress test, and detailed evaluation of your health history
Treatment, if necessary, for depression or anxiety