Recovering from a heart attack

A heart attack changes everything. It’s important to follow recovery advice to minimise your risk of ongoing issues.

Learning how to manage your health after a heart attack can be complex. You may need to change some old habits that put you at risk of further difficulties. As well as the physical side of recovery, you should remember to take care of your mental health, too. Heart attacks are traumatic. So, when you’re recovering from a heart attack you should consider your emotional wellbeing, as well as your physical.


Information overload- making sense of it all

The good news is, there’s a lot of guidance available for people recovering from a heart attack. However, we know that this can sometimes be overwhelming. If there’s one thing to remember, it’s that a healthier life equals a healthier heart. We’ll discuss how to go about making healthy changes a bit further on. But, healthy living lies at the heart of it all (if you will).

Easy does it

It’s important not to rush your recovery. Your body’s been through a lot, so rushing the process isn’t a good plan. Allow your body rest time to recover properly. This will be guided by your specialist doctor and by listening to your body. You know your body better than anyone, so listen to it when it’s tired.

One thing at a time

Setting small goals can help you stay motivated and recover in a safe, manageable way. If you work on one thing at a time, you’re more likely to stay focused and achieve the things you want to. Begin with smaller tasks that you can complete at home, such as making your breakfast or having a bath or shower. Then slowly, build up to bigger things, like visiting a friend or going out for short walk.

Take the specialist help

Not sure what kind of goals you should be setting? Healthcare professionals can help you set targets when recovering from a heart attack. Your rehabilitation will begin in hospital. You’ll have the help of several specialists who can help you with recovery strategies. This could include nurses, physiotherapists and doctors.

Making healthy choices every day

Here comes the healthy living part. The way we live our lives has a huge impact on our health. There’s lots of ways you could decide to be healthier. Eating well, exercising and kicking any bad habits should be at the top of the list. You should also look to reduce any stressful elements in your life. Stress can be detrimental to our physical and mental health.

Eating well:

The best advice is to eat as naturally as possible. Fill your diet with fruits and veg to maximise your vitamin intake. A Mediterranean provides the nourishment you need, whilst promoting healing. This includes eating lots of fruit and veg, whole grains and fish. You should try to reduce your meat intake.

Do not take supplements without speaking to a doctor first. Some supplements can actually cause harm, and could interact with medication.


This is something that should gradually be added into your routine. It’s best to start off with light exercise, such as walking up and down the stairs. Gradually, as you get stronger, you can begin to add other exercises in.

Cardiovascular exercises, such as jogging, cycling and swimming are great for your heart. However, your ability to perform these exercises will depend upon your general health and heart condition. Consult your doctor before beginning more vigorous exercise.

Kicking bad habits:

Smoking and drinking alcohol to excess are strongly discouraged when recovering from a heart attack. Smoking puts excess pressure on your heart. This could significantly increase your risk of experiencing another heart attack. The British Heart Foundation attributes up to 20,000 annual heart and circulatory deaths to smoking.

If you need help to quit, the NHS can give you just that. Check out the Smoke Free website for your personalised plan to quit.

Likewise, you should limit your alcohol intake to stay within the recommended weekly allowance. Less is best. Men and women should drink less than 14 units a week, which is the same as 6 pints of beer, or 10 small glasses of wine.

Take your medication

Medication plays a huge role in recovery. Four different types of medication are prescribed for heart attack recovery. These are:

1. Statins: prescribed to lower your blood cholesterol level.

2. Beta blockers: prescribed to reduce strain on the heart by relaxing the heart muscles.

3. Anti-platelets: prescribed to prevent blood clots.

4. ACE inhibitors: prescribed to reduce blood pressure.

Your doctor will prescribe you with the most appropriate medication for you. It’s important to take these properly to minimise your risk of suffering any further issues. If you have several medications to keep track of, you might find the PillTime service helpful. This is a free online medication service that organises all your doses. PillTime sorts and labels everything you need and delivers your full prescription. Find out more information here.

Look after your mental health

A heart attack truly is a life-changing experience. When these things happen, it’s natural to feel bewildered by what’s going on inside your body. If you feel traumatised or worried about your ongoing health, speak to your GP. He/she can help provide an action plan for your mental wellbeing, as well as your physical.

There are many ways to manage mental health. It’s about finding what works best for you. Going for long walks, doing things you enjoy and practising mindfulness are all good tactics.


Can I drive after a heart attack?

You shouldn’t drive for at least one week after having a heart attack. However, this changes from person to person. In more severe cases, you may need to refrain from driving for up to 4 weeks. Your doctor will be able to advise you on this.

Can I have sex after a heart attack?

You should be able to have sex again as soon as you feel well enough. This may be in about 2-4 weeks after having a heart attack. The British Heart Foundation explains that sex is just another form of exercise. Click here to find out more information.

Can I return to work after a heart attack?

Yes, when you feel ready. If you’ve experienced a milder heart attack, you may be able to return to work in a couple of weeks. However, this depends on how severe your heart attack was and the type of job you do. If you work in a more manual job, you may need to postpone your return for longer. Your care team can assess this for you, and advise when best to return to work.

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