Heart Attack – Getting Back Into Your Life After a Heart Attack
If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
How soon can I return to my regular activities?
The amount of activity you can do after a heart attack will depend on the condition of your heart. Most people can return to work and the activities they enjoy within a few months of having a heart attack. Others may have to limit their activity if the heart muscle is very weak. Your healthcare provider will let you know what level of activity is best for you.
For the first few days after your heart attack, you may need to rest and let your heart heal. As your heart heals, you’ll be ready to start moving around again. Your healthcare provider may want you to do stretching exercises and get up and walk. You’ll then become more active based on your healthcare provider’s advice. Your healthcare provider will probably want you to do an exercise test (also called a stress test). During this test, you will do some form of exercise (usually walking on a treadmill) while your heart is monitored. Based on these results, your healthcare provider will develop an exercise plan for you.
How can I improve my recovery?
Your healthcare provider may recommend that you get involved in a cardiac rehabilitation program. Cardiac rehabilitation programs are supervised by exercise specialists. Many hospitals provide or sponsor these programs to get people started with a safe level of exercise after a heart attack. Later, you’ll probably be able to exercise on your own.
Contact your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms during exercise:
- Shortness of breath for more than about 10 minutes
- Chest pain or pain in your arms, neck, jaw or stomach
- Dizzy spells
- Pale or splotchy skin
- Very fast or irregular heart beat
- Cold sweats
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness or fainting
- Swelling or pain in your legs
Why is exercise so important?
Exercise strengthens your heart muscle. It can also boost your energy and your mood, help you feel more in control of your health and help you lose weight and keep it off. Exercise may also lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels as well as improve sleep.
What kind of exercise is good?
The best types of exercise are those that involve your whole body, such as walking, cycling, jogging, cross-country skiing or swimming. Your healthcare provider or rehabilitation therapists may also prescribe activities to increase your strength and flexibility.
Risk factors for another heart attack
Taking charge of the things that put you at risk for another heart attack can help you feel better and reduce your risk of future problems. The following factors can put you at risk for another heart attack:
- Not exercising
- Alcohol in excessive amounts
- Being overweight or obese
- High cholesterol level
- High blood sugar level if you have diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Smoking (also avoid second-hand smoke)
- Too much stress in your life
How often should I exercise?
This depends on your exercise plan. You’ll probably start slowly and gradually add to your routine. Be sure to warm up before exercising, for example by walking at a comfortable pace for 5 minutes or more.
What can I do to speed my recovery and stay healthy?
Your healthcare provider will probably recommend that you make some changes in your diet, such as cutting back on fat and cholesterol and watching how much salt you eat. If you smoke, you will have to quit. Your healthcare provider may also suggest that you learn better ways to deal with stress, such as time management, relaxation training and deep breathing.
When can I go back to work?
Most people go back to work within 1 to 3 months after having a heart attack. The amount of time you are off from work depends on the condition of your heart and how strenuous or stressful your work is.
You may have to make some changes in how you do your job or you may have to change jobs, at least for a short time, if your job is too hard on your heart.
What about sex?
Talk to your healthcare provider about when you can safely have sex again. Most people can safely have sex 2 to 8 weeks after heart attack or heart surgery. As with other types of activity, you may need to start out slowly and work your way back into your normal patterns.
Don’t be afraid of sex because of your heart attack. Contact your healthcare provider if you or your partner have any concerns.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Nova Scotia Toll free 1-800-423-4432
Prince Edward Island: (902) 892-7441
Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation Website at:
American Heart Association
University of Iowa Healthcare Cardiac Rehabilitation Guide: Exercise