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Overcoming Cardiovascular Disease

If you've been diagnosed with stroke, heart attack, angina or PAD, you may be in shock. But the right medical care can prevent future problems.

Lifestyle Changes Go a Long Way

But when it comes to cardiovascular disease, medicines and surgery are only a small part of your overall treatment.

"Pills are only going to do so much to treat cardiovascular disease," says Champion. "The greatest benefits to your health will come from things that you do on your own."

Medicine and surgery can't counteract any of your bad habits. "In other words, taking medication or having surgery doesn't give you permission to keep smoking and keep eating an unhealthy diet," says Ross.

According to the experts, here are some of the things you need to do.

  • Stop smoking. "Smoking promotes blood clotting and it constricts the blood vessels," says Ross. "But once you quit, the effects tend to go away quite quickly."
  • Get on a healthy diet. Good nutrition -- eating foods low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables -- is an important way of controlling cardiovascular disease. Ask your health care provider for specific recommendations. Or get a referral to a nutritionist. Depending on your condition, you may need to reduce the salt in your diet as well.
  • Get more physical activity. You should always check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine. But physical activity is key for people fighting cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends gradually working up to 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.

Champion says that, after a heart attack or stroke, people are often wary of exercise. "They're afraid that something bad will happen if they push themselves," he tells WebMD. However, you're not as fragile as you think. Champion recommends working with your doctor or looking into a cardiac rehabilitation program. These programs allow you to start exercising in a safe environment watched over by health care professionals. It's a great way to ease into exercise and build up your confidence.

Sticking to It

Making big -- and permanent -- changes to your lifestyle isn't easy. Eating healthier foods and exercising may be a lot easier at first, since fear is a great motivator. The minute you checked out of the hospital, you may have rushed out for a stack of healthy cookbooks, a new tracksuit, and a gym membership. But as the memory of your heart attack or stroke fades, your health kick may lose some of its momentum.

"Sticking to changes in your behavior is really hard," says Ross.

But don't give up. Sure, you may slip every once and a while. But the next day, you have to get back on your food and exercise plan. Don't ever lose sight of how important these lifestyle changes are for your health.

Here are some tips from the experts on how to stick to your plan.

  • Find support. It's key that you pay attention to your psychological health. "It's completely normal to become depressed after having a heart attack or stroke," says Champion. According to the American Heart Association, up to 25% of people develop major depression after a heart attack, but it often goes untreated.

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