Why should I change my lifestyle after a heart attack?

There is evidence that lifestyle affects your risk of having a heart attack. Making changes to your diet, how much exercise you take, your alcohol intake, cutting down on smoking and losing weight if you're overweight can all reduce your risk of another heart attack.

Changes to your diet

Eat a Mediterranean-style diet, with more bread, fruit, vegetables and fish, and less meat. Choose products made from vegetable and plant oils (such as olive oil) instead of products such as butter and cheese.

Avoid foods that contain a lot of fat (especially saturated fat), salt and added sugar.

Eat two to four portions of oily fish a week, such as herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna. A portion is about 140g (a small tin of oily fish or a small fillet of fresh fish).

Choose healthy ways of cooking and preparing your food. Don't fry food or roast it in fat. Instead, steam, poach, bake, casserole, microwave or stir fry. Read more information on cutting down on saturated fats and healthy eating.

Don't take beta-carotene (a type of vitamin A) supplements. Be aware that taking vitamins C or E or folic acid won't help prevent another heart attack.

Drink less alcohol

If you drink alcohol, stay within the recommended limits and don't binge drink.

Take regular exercise

Regular exercise can help your heart. Adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week.

Your doctor will give you advice about whether you need to increase your activity levels and how to do this safely. It will depend on:

  • how well you've recovered
  • how physically active you are now
  • how physically active you used to be
  • what type of exercise you enjoy

Choose activities that make you slightly breathless, but you shouldn't feel pain or discomfort. If you do, stop and rest immediately.

Stop smoking

Smoking increases your risk of having another heart attack.

If you smoke, get help and advice to help you stop. Treatments are available on the NHS to help you stop smoking. Find your nearest NHS Stop Smoking Service from the NHS Smokefree website or call 0300 123 1044.

Check your weight

If you're overweight, you're putting extra strain on your heart and increasing your risk of another heart attack. If you need to lose weight, the healthcare professional looking after you, such as your doctor, can give you advice and support about reaching and maintaining your ideal weight.

Cardiac rehabilitation

After your heart attack you'll be given advice and support. You'll be invited to attend a cardiac rehabilitation programme to help you recover and lead your life as normally as possible. The programme covers:

  • exercise
  • health education and information
  • stress management
  • reassurance about sexual activity

Read more information about recovering from a heart attack, including cardiac rehabilitation.

Read the answers to more questions about lifestyle.

Further information:

Heart attack

A consultant cardiologist explains what a heart attack is, the symptoms, surgical treatments and why it's important for coronary heart disease patients to reduce their risk factors.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 20/10/2015

Page last reviewed: 30/09/2013

Next review due: 29/09/2015