Health Encyclopedia - Self-Care Instructions
Being active after your heart attack
Heart attack - activity
When You Were in the Hospital
You had a heart attack and were in the hospital. You may have had angioplasty and a stent placed in an artery to open a blocked artery in your heart.
What to Expect at Home
While you were in the hospital, you should have learned:
- How to take your pulse
- How to recognize your angina symptoms and what to do when they happen.
- How to care for yourself at home after a heart attack
Your doctor may recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program to you. This program will help you learn what foods to eat and exercises to do to stay healthy. Eating well and exercising will help you start feeling healthy again.
Getting Started with Your Exercise
Before starting to exercise, your doctor may have you do an exercise test and should give you exercise recommendations an exercise plan. This may happen before you leave the hospital or soon afterward. Do not change your exercise plan before talking with your doctor or nurse first.
Take it easy at first:
- Walking is the best activity when you start exercising.
- Walk on flat ground for a few weeks at first.
- You can try bike riding after a few weeks. Walk your bike up any hills, or ride a stationary bike in an easy gear.
- If it is windy, walk or bike with the breeze behind you.
- Do not walk outside if it is very cold or very hot. Go to a shopping mall and do your walking inside.
Slowly increase how long you exercise at any 1 time. If you are up to it, repeat the activity 2 or 3 times during the day. You may want to try this very easy exercise schedule (but ask your doctor first):
- Week 1: about 5 minutes at a time
- Week 2: about 10 minutes at a time
- Week 3: about 15 minutes at a time
- Week 4: about 20 minutes at a time
- Week 5: about 25 minutes at a time
- Week 6: about 30 minutes at a time
After 6 weeks, you may be able to start swimming, but stay out of very cold or very hot water. You can also begin playing golf. Start easily with just hitting balls. Add to your golfing slowly, playing just a few holes at a time. Avoid golfing in very hot or cold weather.
You can do some things around the house to stay active, but always ask your doctor or nurse first. Avoid a lot of activity on days that are very hot or cold.
You may be able to cook light meals by the end of your first week. You can wash dishes or set the table if you feel up to it.
By the end of the second week you may start doing very light housework, such as making your bed. Go slowly.
After 4 weeks, you may be able to:
- Iron -- start with only 5 or 10 minutes at a time
- Shop, but do not carry heavy bags or walk too far
- Do short periods of light yard work
By 6 weeks, your doctor may allow you to do more activities, such as heavier housework and exercise, but be careful.
- Try not to lift or carry anything that is heavy, such as a vacuum cleaner or a pail of water.
- If any activities cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or any of the symptoms that you had before or during your heart attack, stop doing them right away. Tell your doctor or nurse.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor if you feel:
- Pain, pressure, tightness, or heaviness in the chest, arm, neck, or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Gas pains or indigestion
- Numbness in your arms
- Sweaty, or if you lose color
Also call your doctor if you have angina and it:
- Becomes stronger
- Occurs more often
- Lasts longer
- Occurs when you are not active
- If drugs no longer help ease your angina symptoms as well as they did
These changes may mean your heart disease is getting worse.
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Cannon CP and Braunwald E. Unstable angina and non-ST elevation myocardial infarction. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald'sHeart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Saunders; 2011:chap 56.
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.