How to Stay Healthy After a Heart Attack or Stroke

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 02, 2019

If you've already had a heart attack or stroke, you need to do what you can to keep it from happening again. Diet, exercise, and other changes to your routine can cut your risk and put you on the path to a healthier life.

Eat the Right Food

Discuss any changes to what you eat with your doctor. In most cases, you'll want to fill your shopping cart with heart-healthy foods, such as:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Beans, nuts, and seeds
  • Poultry without the skin
  • Lean meats
  • Fish, especially those with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring
  • Avocados, olive oil, and flaxseeds, which also have omega-3s

You'll usually want to cut back on or avoid:

  • Fatty beef, butter, fried foods, and palm oil, which are all high in saturated fats
  • Sugary drinks like sodas and fruit punch, which can lead to weight gain
  • Packaged baked goods such as cookies, cakes, and pies, which are high in trans fats and can raise your cholesterol levels
  • Table salt, canned and prepackaged foods, and other sources of sodium that can raise your blood pressure

Exercise More

Get more active to cut your chances for a heart attack and stroke. Exercise helps you:

  • Ease your blood pressure
  • Lower your LDL "bad" cholesterol
  • Raise your HDL "good" cholesterol
  • Stay at a healthy weight

Cut the Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Before you start working out, talk to your doctor about what's OK for you. Once you've been cleared for physical activity, try to get:

  • Thirty to 60 minutes of moderate activity -- like brisk walking -- most days of the week
  • Muscle-strengthening exercise -- such as lifting weights, yoga, or using resistance bands -- 2 or more days per week

It may sound like a lot, but you don't have to do it all at once. You can break it up into several 10-minute chunks during your day. For example, take a walk around your neighborhood in the morning, garden or mow your lawn in the afternoon, and then take another brisk walk after dinner.

Quit Smoking

Now is the time to kick the habit. Tobacco harms your blood vessels and raises your risk for heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Even if you haven't been able to stop smoking in the past, support systems exist that could raise your chances of success this time. For example, you could:

  • Call the hotline 800-QUIT-NOW.
  • Visit the website.
  • Talk to your doctor about how to quit.
  • Ask your family and friends for support.

Take Your Meds

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help control your blood pressure or cholesterol. Take them exactly as they tell you to. They can also give you suggestions about how you can stay on track.

Stay Positive

You may feel anxious or frustrated at times. Make sure you open up to your family and friends about what’s going on.

You can also help yourself.

  • Join a support group to learn how others adjusted to life after a heart attack or stroke.
  • Talk to a mental health professional.
  • Ask your doctor about a stress management program.
  • Get plenty of physical activity.
  • Meditate.

Try Cardiac Rehabilitation

If you've had a heart attack or have been diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation. You'll work with a team of experts to boost your health and avoid future problems.

Your team may include doctors and nurses, as well as specialists in exercise, nutrition, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and mental health. They'll set up a program to fit your needs. They can also help you make changes in your daily life. If you stick with it, it can make a big difference in your recovery and overall well-being.

WebMD Medical Reference



National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Life After a Stroke," "Life After a Heart Attack."

American Stroke Association: "Protect Your Heart, Protect Your Brain," "Suggested Servings from Each Food Group," "Managing Blood Pressure with a Heart-Healthy Diet," "Saturated Fats," "Added Sugars," "Shaking the Salt Habit."

Whole Grains Council: "Definition of Whole Grains."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "How Is Coronary Heart Disease Treated?"

CDC: "Physical Activity and Health," "How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?"

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "How Does Smoking Affect the Heart and Blood Vessels?" "Strategies to Quit Smoking," "What Is Cardiac Rehabilitation?"

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