A heart attack or stroke can be a huge wake up call to make you aware of your health and the need for some changes. But it can be overwhelming to overhaul your whole life at once! Where would you even begin?
Your doctor may not actually give you much guidance. Perhaps you will get a few handouts from the American Heart Association and a recommendation for therapy to help you recover your body. But you probably still have a lot of questions that go unanswered… or poorly answered.
And as much as you want to believe that the AHA has your best interest at heart, there’s even evidence that it’s also a biased source.
So what is the answer when the advice is confusing and so overwhelming? Below I want to point you to a few basic things that will boost your overall health status in a way that will help your body recover from the damage already done and even prevent additional episodes.
Of course these won’t be enough by themselves, but they are easy for a reason – to give you a starting point.
Lifestyle Change #1: Sleep More
I mentioned this would be easy, right? What’s more easy than an excuse for naps and sleeping in? This article from Heart & Stroke points to the benefits of improving the quality of sleep. For more ideas on how to improve your sleep, check out this article for simple sleep hacks. I also really respect Shawn Stevenson, the author of Sleep Smarter, which is a book designed to improve your sleep quality even if you can’t improve the quantity.
Lifestyle Change #2: Breathe Better
You have to breathe to live, but are you breathing in a way that supports your health? If you are like most people, you might not even know what a healthy breathing pattern is. That’s okay, it’s actually quite simple. You need to breathe through your nose, and in a deeper than average pattern. Be sure to push air out for longer than you are breathing in.
Dr. Andreiw Weil recommends a couple of more specific breathing exercises that you can try. Find one that you feel helps you relax and gets oxygen into your body most efficiently.
Lifestyle Change #3: Practice Gratitude
It’s super popular these days to talk about gratitude but it feels like no one is actually doing it. But the research on the benefits are absolutely astounding. It’s a heart healthy practice that can absolutely help you recover.
So the best way to start? My favorite so far is an app call the 5 Minute Journal. You can download it and plan to open it once in the morning and once at night. It asks a couple of brief questions that helps you journal your day and includes an optional image upload so you can have a visual to include. I have only recently started using it, but I really like starting and ending my day with gratitude. It’s a powerful way to process your daily life experiences through that lens!
Lifestyle Change #4: Adjust Your Liquid Intake
This one might be the hardest of all, but I have suggestions to make this area (almost) painless.
Of course you should drink water. If you don’t like the taste, try a sugar free add-in like True Lemon to flavor it. If you can handle the flavor, coconut water is amazing for hydration because it has all kinds of naturally occurring electrolytes and none of the extra junk they put in all the sports drinks.
The research points to many benefits of consuming coffee, but those benefits become overwhelmed by the negative impact of caffeine after about 4 8oz cups. Most people can handle about 16 oz of coffee without too much problems from the caffeine. Listen to your body and know your tolerance level.
The benefits of coffee can also be negated much more quickly when you are adding a sugary creamer and all kinds of flavorings made with chemicals and fillers to your coffee. Instead, I recommend a stevia/erythritol blend (my favorite is Pyure, or Truvia packets when I’m on the go) for sweetening, and if you want a creamer use a bit of half and half or heavy cream without all the additives.
I should point out that because sleep is important, getting your caffeine in before about 2pm will help you sleep better.
For those that struggle with an elevated heart rate or heart arrhythmia, it’s probably best that you cut it down significantly or eliminate it completely.
If you are experiencing any anxiety, I do recommend at least a temporary break of at least 2 weeks from all caffeine in order to find out if the caffeine is contributing to your experience.
Assuming it’s not a southern sweet tea made with lots of sugar, tea can be a wonderful way to sneak in extra nutrition and increase your overall hydration level. My favorite right now is Moringa Tea by Miracle Tree. (My local grocery store has it for a little over $4, which is cheaper than Amazon, but I thought you might appreciate seeing the brand). I still add a bit of sweetener to it, but it’s got a lot of water for hydration AND the fantastic nutritional benefits.
Sodas and Energy Drinks
For what should be fairly obvious reasons, you should give these up. But if you want some reasons to help you decide if you are ready for this step, check out this post on sodas or this video on energy drinks.
I rarely consume pre-packaged beverages at all these days, but my go to for a soda alternative is the Zevia brand which is soda with carbonation but is sweetened with stevia. I know several people who have been able to curb their soda addiction with their drinks.
Lifestyle Change #5: Spice it up!
I know if you had a heart attack, or even possibly if you had a stroke, your Dr probably told you to toss the salt. There is definitely some good research on why that has been the general recommendation because table salt is terrible for you. But it’s not the entire story.
I could write it all out, but the video below from Dr. Mercola pretty much sums up what I would say.
So toss out your table salt, but replace it with Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan Salt.
While you are thinking about your spice cabinet, dust off your turmeric bottle and start using it. There are several heart healthy benefits to prevent and recover from heart attack and stroke. Some evidence suggests that combining turmeric with black pepper can increase your body’s ability to use the turmeric more efficiently. I found some conflicting reports on this, but I think it’s worth a try to combine them.
While we are on the subject of spices, let’s talk about flavors! You might believe that eating a healthy diet means lots of boring and bland foods. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Here’s a great article (and podcast if you would rather listen) on 10 reasons spicy food is actually good for you!
The trick with this is to make sure you are aware of the other ingredients. Mexican food is often spicy, but also has a lot of refined carbs that will spike your blood sugar and are not heart healthy.
While these easy lifestyle tweaks are a great place to start your recovery following a heart attack or stroke, they are not enough. You probably have many more diet and lifestyle changes you need to make. I have a post coming up that will step you through the process of updating your cooking oils to support your health and you don’t want to miss it. This can be a great next step to take on your journey!
So did one of these changes surprise you or encourage you? If this post inspired change in your life, I would love to hear it. Let me know in the comments below. Or maybe you can think of another easy change to make, I would love to see those also!