Life after a heart attack: the first few weeks

The first few weeks after your heart attack are often about easing back into your life. Here are some tips to help you do that.

The amount of time you spend in hospital when you have a heart attack can range from a single night to a few weeks. This means you can be home very soon so it’s important to know how to deal with the physical and emotional impacts of this life-changing event.

What to expect in the first weeks

Everyone’s path to recovery is different. During those first few weeks at home your abilities will vary depending on the severity of your heart attack and your physical health. 

You’ll need to consider how to tweak your lifestyle to suit your condition. The aim is to resume your normal, daily routine as soon as possible without compromising your recovery. 

“It’s important to rest and give your body a chance to recover,” says Nick Green, Accredited Practising Dietitian at Bupa.

“Easing back into things, while also undertaking lifestyle changes on the advice of your doctors and Bupa team, can be a process of adjustment,” he says. “You might feel a bit uncertain about what you can do and you could feel nervous or anxious that [another heart attack] is going to happen.”

How to ease back into your activities

Once you’re out of hospital, the first step towards recovery is to gather a group of people who want to help.

“Get your family and friends around [you] as a good support network,” advises Green. “If you don’t have anyone nearby, it can be a good idea to stay with friends for those first couple of weeks.” 

The people around you can help you adjust to what you can and can’t do as time goes by, and you can ask them for help if you need it.
older man sitting with younger kids

Don’t overdo the physical activity

Your physical activity levels need to remain very low for the first few weeks following your heart attack. This includes even light tasks you do around the house, so refrain from heavy lifting or any movement that will stress the upper body.

“Do minimal activity and leave the [more-strenuous] duties for someone else. If it’s something simple that you feel capable of doing, you can do it,” Green recommends.

Though exercise will be important for your heart health as you move forwards, it plays only a small role during the first weeks. 

“Take it really easy,” advises Green. “If you’re looking to get back to set activity, walking is good.” 

In the first week or two, it’s a matter of going for a 5-minute walk twice a day to see how you feel, and after that, going for 10 minutes. The aim is to build up to a regular 30 minutes a day over time, which can be in blocks of 10 minutes. Building up to a regular physical activity like this helps you avoid further heart problems down the track.

Other activities, like driving, exercising more and returning to work are often possible within a matter of weeks after a heart attack but this depends on your individual circumstances. You should do these things only after consulting with your medical team. 

“Your cardiologist will [talk to] you about what your job involves, which tasks you should avoid and how to ease back into things,” Green says.

Ultimately, the beginning of your recovery in those first weeks is about returning to your routine slowly and mindfully. 

“Listen to your body,” suggests Green. “If you’re feeling unconfident about the activity, just leave it. Work closely with your doctors [to see] what you can do.”
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