Life After a Heart Attack in Men: How to Recover and Thrive

Up to half of American adults suffer from heart disease, and the nationwide cost is 350 billion dollars per year[1]. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with around 610,000 people dying from heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems each year[2].
Men tend to have cardiac events earlier than women. On average, heart attacks in men occur in their mid-60s, while women tend to have them around their seventh decade of life[3].
Heart attacks in men can be debilitating and life-changing, but with the right strategy, you can recover and thrive, no matter your age. In this article, you’ll learn how to get stronger and live a long, healthy life after a heart attack.

Why Do Heart Attacks in Men Happen Earlier and More Often?

Heart attacks are the number one killer of men and women in the Western world, but heart attacks in men are twice as common[4]. Additionally, middle-aged men are currently experiencing a greater rise in heart attacks than any other demographic[5].
Partly because of heart attacks, the life expectancy gap between women and men has grown in recent decades[6].
Along with the traditional risk factors of high blood pressure and stress, men tend to consume more alcohol and smoke more than women[5]. Researchers also think they may be less skilled at dealing with stress than women.
Luckily, you can take steps today to reduce your risk of another heart attack and get your life back.

6 Tips to Recover and Thrive After a Heart Attack in Men

#1: Look for These Warning Signs

A heart attack occurs when a plaque or clot blocks blood flow to your heart. If you think you may be experiencing another heart attack, call 911 or get to a hospital immediately. Here are the most common signs and symptoms to look for:
  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or discomfort in your chest, arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
  • Excessive sweating or cold sweat
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
Chest pain (angina) is the most common symptom. It’s caused by reduced blood flow to the heart, and often gets worse with exertion and better with rest.
Essentially, the more signs and symptoms there are, the more likely it is that you’re having a heart attack. And in some people, warning signs appear days or weeks before a heart attack.
However, not all people experience severe pain or symptoms. Therefore, if you suspect you may be having a heart attack, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Call 911 immediately, or if you can’t, go to a hospital at once.
Ask your doctor in advance about taking nitroglycerin or aspirin should symptoms occur. These drugs can help buy you time to get emergency medical assistance.

#2: Choose the Best Doctor

Men are more likely to have heart disease than women, and are also more likely to die from it. Therefore, regular screening is one of the best ways to know where you stand.
Unfortunately, men are also less likely to be insured than women, and they tend to make half as many preventive care visits.
Having a doctor you know and trust can improve your odds tremendously.
And if you’re uninsured, you can sign up at the Healthcare Marketplace during the enrollment period each year. Because coverage is based on your income, you may qualify for low-cost insurance.
If you don’t qualify for Marketplace coverage, you may be able to get Medicaid in your state, which is free for unemployed or low-income people.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), physicals and annual checkups are free, so there’s no reason not to receive excellent preventive care.

#3: Request the Best Heart Health Tests Annually

One of the biggest benefits of building a relationship with a doctor is that he or she can order tests to assess your cardiovascular health. Heart attacks in men aren’t random, and risk factors typically show up during testing.
As part of your annual check-up, here are the best tests to predict and prevent another heart attack:
  • VAP Panel or NMR LipoProfile, which are far better than traditional cholesterol panels.
  • High Sensitivity C-reactive Protein (hsCRP), a measure of inflammation in your body.
  • Fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin, and A1C, because high blood sugar and insulin resistance increase your risk[7][8].
The best part of testing is that you can use it as part of your health strategy. These simple tests provide insight into where you’re currently improving and the areas that need more work.
You can also ask your doctor about the following tests to get an even clearer picture:
  • Fibrinogen, a protein that is elevated before and during heart attacks[9].
  • BNP and NTpro-BNP, which predict acute risk in cardiovascular patients[10].
  • A Cardiac Stress Test to determine the safety of exercise.
And if you’ve suffered a heart attack recently, ask your doctor about testing twice each year.

#4: Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

The standard American diet (SAD), high in sugar and processed foods, is linked to greater risk of heart attacks in men and women[11].
A poor diet contributes to heart disease risk by raising inflammation in your body. Therefore, an anti-inflammatory diet is essential for lowering your inflammation levels.
The anti-inflammatory diet is high in whole food protein, healthy fat (like omega-3 fatty acids and olive oil), vegetables, fruits, and fiber.
Here are the inflammatory foods you should avoid to prevent another heart attack:
  • Processed and pre-made foods
  • Sugars and sweeteners (especially fructose)
  • Trans fats
  • Vegetable oils and other processed refined oils
  • Dairy products
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Seeds
By avoiding unhealthy inflammatory foods and eating anti-inflammatory foods instead, you can reduce your risk of another heart attack[12].

#5: Exercise Wisely

After a heart attack in men, exercise can reduce your risk of a repeat occurrence[].
However, first you must build up your strength slowly. It’s also a good idea to get a cardiac stress test and ask your doctor for advice on how to exercise safely.
But once you get clearance to work out, you can use exercise to get healthier and stronger:
  • Daily walks, swims, or bike rides help remodel your heart[13].
  • Strength training one to three times per week can enhance your strength and quality of life[14].
  • Stretching or yoga help limber up your blood vessels and improves circulation[15].
Monitoring your pulse and breathing through your nose are helpful methods to find the right pace. Nose breathing keeps you in the healthy aerobic fat-burning zone without overtaxing your heart. If you feel a need to breathe through your mouth, go slower!
Don’t let your maximum heart rate exceed (180 – Your Age). Therefore, if you’re 50 years old, your heart rate shouldn’t go over 130 beats per minute during exercise.
Excessive exercise can actually increase the risk of another heart attack, so don’t overdo it[16].

#6: Sit Less and Move More

Sitting all the time increases your risk of a heart attack, but you can reduce your risk by a full 33% by sitting less[17].
By adjusting how you move and position your body, you can burn more calories and achieve better health.
The calories you burn moving each day are called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Use these tips to up your NEAT:
  • Stand to work instead of sitting at a desk.
  • Take breaks to stretch or go for a short walk.
  • Park at the far end of the parking lot.
  • Carry your own groceries.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
  • Do chores with vigor.
According to research, these changes can reduce your risk of early death[18]. And unlike exercise, NEAT requires no planning or extra time.

#7: Manage Stress

Researchers think heart attacks in men are more common because men aren’t as good at coping with stress[5]. Because men are less likely to talk to someone, and often “bottle up stress,” their heart health suffers.
Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case. Use these stress management techniques to speed your recovery after a heart attack:
  • Talk to a spouse, family member, pastor, or counselor about the things that bother you.
  • Set aside time for emotional intimacy and touch, or get a therapeutic massage if you’re single[19].
  • Breathe deeply for 15 minutes each day to destress[20].
  • Spend time in nature whenever possible to lower your blood pressure and clear your mind[21].
Having a heart attack is, in itself, very stressful. Therefore, managing your stress can help you deal with the issues you’ll encounter during recovery. And don’t overlook better stress management as a way to reduce your risk in the future.