Reclaiming Life After a Heart Event: A Holistic Approach
If you recently experienced a heart event, you may have a lot of emotions, which is entirely understandable. Whether you are fearful, scared, confused, frustrated, or ready to make a change, all your feelings are valid—you just went through a life-changing event, after all. But there’s plenty you can do to be proactive about your future health and bounce back physically, mentally, and emotionally in the coming months.
While following doctor’s orders and taking prescribed medications are undoubtedly crucial after a heart event, you can also incorporate several holistic practices into your daily routine to support both physical and mental well-being. However, it's important to note that you should always consult your healthcare team before making any major changes to ensure they align with your specific condition or medications.
Healthy Ways to Reclaim Life After a Heart Event
As something—or a culmination of many things—in your “old” life led to the heart event you recently experienced, you may need to make some significant changes to create your “new” and healthier life. From mind-body practices and mental health support to exercising and eating nutritious foods, here are some tips to reclaim life after a major heart event.
Exercises or practices involving both the mind and the body—like yoga, meditation, breathwork, and tai chi—provide physical, mental, and emotional benefits.
As stress can significantly contribute to cardiovascular events, finding ways to manage your stress is imperative—and mind-body practices can be a great way to do so. For example, Tai Chi is a Chinese martial arts style called Wushu, consisting of slow and defined motion sequences. This form of movement has been found to reduce stress, improve mood, and support mental health—in fact, it’s often described as "meditation in motion.”
In this meta-analysis of over 1,200 people with metabolic disorders, having a Tai Chi practice significantly reduced blood glucose levels, hemoglobin A1C (a critical diagnostic biomarker of metabolic health), body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and total cholesterol—all of which are also markers of cardiovascular health.
Yoga is also linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular conditions, including improved blood pressure, body weight, blood sugar management, resting heart rate, and cholesterol or lipid profiles.
You can find free videos online teaching you how to incorporate these mind-body practices into your life, and most gyms offer classes in some or all of them, as well.
Gradually Add In Exercise
Exercise not only helps you recover from your heart event but can also help prevent another one from occurring in the future. You won’t want to be hopping back into your HIIT class the week after a cardiovascular event, but gradually adding in light exercise can be beneficial for your future heart health.
It’s important to follow your doctor’s advice, but most people can begin by lightly walking (a common first step in Cardiac Rehabilitation programs) for just a few minutes at a time and building up from there. How fast and how long you exercise will depend on many things, including your age, health status, and how severe your heart event was.
Mental Health Support
Heart events can bring up many feelings you may never have fully experienced before—and it’s okay to feel them! Post-heart event feelings are so common, in fact, that there’s a name for them: “the cardiac blues.”
If you feel overwhelmed, sad, or anxious, consider talking to a therapist (or at least a trusted friend or family member). It can also be beneficial to speak with someone who’s gone through what you have, which is where joining a cardiac rehab program can be helpful.
Many supplements contain beneficial compounds or nutrients that can support heart health—but be sure to discuss them first with your doctor, especially if you are prescribed blood thinners after your heart event.
Some cardioprotective supplements include coenzyme Q10, berberine, garlic extract, krill oil and omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin D, fiber, and more. Read more here about these supplements and how they support heart health.
The term “heart-healthy” has different connotations than just a few decades ago. Whereas the 1990s and 2000s went gung-ho on low-fat diets and stuck saturated fat as the ultimate cardiovascular villain, we now know there’s much more to the story. Although some people do respond negatively to excess saturated fat consumption, most individuals do fine with a more balanced approach to fat intake—that is, not demonizing it and including it as part of a varied diet.
Heart-healthy foods or nutrients to add to your diet include fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grains, poultry, grass-fed beef, eggs, olive oil, and legumes.
Antioxidant-rich foods are also an excellent idea, as the polyphenols in these foods can fight oxidative stress that contributes to poor cardiovascular health. Some antioxidant-rich foods and beverages to start adding to your diet include berries, citrus, apples, leafy green and cruciferous vegetables, herbs and spices, garlic, ginger, extra-virgin olive oil, dark chocolate, artichokes, beans, beets, green tea, coffee, and red grapes.
It can be tempting to isolate after a stressful event, but the opposite is vital to recovering and bouncing back after it occurs. Cultivate social connections with family members, friends, community groups, or new people who have gone through what you have.
You may think that loneliness solely affects your mental health, but it can actually have an impact on your cardiovascular recovery and your future heart health. In a study of older men, those who had the lowest frequency of contact with family and friends had a 59% increased risk of heart failure compared to those with the most social contact.
Time in Nature
Spending time in nature—whether venturing deep into a forest or simply touching the grass in your backyard or a neighborhood park—has been shown to affect mental and physical health positively.
Not only does time spent in nature reduce stress, but it can also benefit cardiovascular function. Research shows that nature immersion can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels in the short term, which can translate to better heart health over time. Plus, people living in areas with less access to green spaces have an increased risk of cardiovascular conditions. If you don’t live near green spaces, make it a point to visit green or natural areas regularly after your heart event.
With over 800,000 people in the United States experiencing a heart event each year, you are certainly not alone if you just had one. While it may feel easier to isolate and retreat after a heart event, prioritizing social connection and mental health can improve both your emotional state and your cardiovascular recovery.
To reclaim your life after a heart event, try mind-body practices like meditation or yoga, gradually adding exercise, reaching out for mental health support if needed, trying cardioprotective supplements, spending time in nature, and eating a heart-healthy diet.
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