Why Eating Well and Exercising after a Heart Attack is SO Important!

In Canada, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death and disability in our country. Heart disease refers to the build up of plaques in our arteries. This leads to blockages that prevent blood from getting to the places in our body that need it. When this plaque creates a complete blockage in an artery around the heart, this is called a heart attack (or myocardial infarction).

icebergA heart attack is the tip of the iceberg. These plaques have been growing for possibly years with the latest research saying it starts in childhood and accumulates through early adulthood. With the quality of our diets going down hill, many people are having heart attacks in their 30s! It becomes a big wake up call that we need to change our ways.

Often when you have a heart attack, your doctor will send you for a test called an angiogram. What this test does is see if there are blockages in other places. Likely we DO have plaque growing in other areas and it doesn’t stop because you had a heart attack!




If you take nothing else away from this article I want to tell you this …

Having a heart attack means that the plaques are there… what we eat and how often we exercise DIRECTLY controls the health of our heart and determines if we are going to have another heart attack.

Eating well and exercising can REVERSE heart disease by making the plaques smaller in our arteries.

But after we have a heart attack, we can get scared. We think that moving around will increase our heart rate and that might cause another heart attack to happen. I know it can sound scary but getting our hearts stronger through a proper exercise program and eating healthily are the two biggest things you can do to get your heart back in prime shape and prevent something else from happening!

Cardiac rehabilitation is a form of physiotherapy that can give you the guidance you need to get back on an exercise program. The current guidelines say that to keep your heart healthy, you need to follow the physical activity guidelines.

These are:

  • Accumulating 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity EACH WEEK or some combination of the two.
  • Do strength training 1-2x/week of all the major muscles in our body in a way that CHALLENGES them to keep stronger.
  • Walking might not count.

Many of my clients tell me they walk … which can be fantastic but often it isn’t at an appropriate pace that would actually push your heart to get stronger. You need to be walking BRISKLY not going for an easy stroll around the block. This means that you feel like you’re breathing heavier and that your heart rate jumps up. A leisurely stroll outside has benefits but these are in the world of stress management and mood, not physical activity.

In the ideal situation, a heart attack wouldn’t happen in the first place. But take it as a motivator to improve your exercise and eating habits. You’ll be thankful that you did in the long run.

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Barry, A. R., O’Neill, D. E., & Graham, M. M. (2016). Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in older adults. The Canadian Journal of Cardiology, doi:S0828-282X(16)00093-3 [pii]

Dalal, H. M., Doherty, P., & Taylor, R. S. (2015). Cardiac rehabilitation. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 351, h5000. doi:10.1136/bmj.h5000 [doi]

Price, K. J., Gordon, B. A., Bird, S. R., & Benson, A. C. (2016). A review of guidelines for cardiac rehabilitation exercise programmes: Is there an international consensus? European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, doi:2047487316657669 [pii]

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Christina Prevett

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