Important lifestyle changes for coronary artery disease

What lifestyle adjustments do I need to make?

There are four main lifestyle changes you can make that can help prevent coronary artery disease (CAD) from getting worse and lower the risk of future cardiac events:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Watch your diet.
  • Exercise.
  • Reduce stress.

Why do I need to quit smoking?

If you smoke, it is very important that you quit. Avoid secondhand smoke too. Smoking increases the risk of a heart attack. Many large studies have shown that quitting smoking can significantly decrease the risk of having a future heart attack. A variety of resources exist to help you, including smoking cessation classes, nicotine patches and other forms of nicotine replacement therapy, and prescription medications (such as bupropion).

Smoking cigarettes damages your blood vessels, increases your heart rate, and decreases the oxygen supply to your heart. Smoking also damages your lungs. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways you can improve your overall health. For more information, see the topic Quitting Tobacco Use.

Some tips to help you quit smoking

  • Make a list of reasons you want to quit smoking and read it every day.
  • Get your mind off smoking (for example, take a walk or keep your hands busy).
  • Avoid places that make you want to smoke.
  • Chew sugarless gum or munch on a healthy snack.
  • Avoid places with a lot of secondhand smoke.
  • Join a quit-smoking support group.
  • Ask your doctor about nicotine gum or nicotine patches. These can decrease your craving for nicotine and increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Remember, not everyone is successful the first time they try. Don't be discouraged if you failed to quit in the past. Most people make several attempts at quitting before they are able to quit for good.

How do I adjust my diet?

Reducing your fat, salt, and calorie intake can help lower the risk of future cardiac events. Following such a diet will help affect your risk of future heart problems in three major ways. It will:

  • Help to reduce your cholesterol levels. A heart-healthy diet combined with exercise can reduce total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. This in turn can reduce your risk of having a heart attack. High cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque that blocks your arteries in CAD.
  • Lower your blood pressure. It is important that you restrict your salt intake to lower high blood pressure (hypertension). Controlling your blood pressure lowers the risk of stroke and heart attack.
  • Reduce your chance of developing diabetes. If you have a family history of diabetes, staying physically active and maintaining an ideal body weight can decrease your chances of developing diabetes. This is important because diabetes is a disease that can further compromise the health of your heart and can increase the risk of heart attack.

Changing your diet is not always easy. However, if you are serious about reducing your chances of having future heart problems, you should reduce your fat, salt, and calorie intake. A dietitian can help you develop meal plans that will help you eat healthfully while still eating some of your favorite foods. A healthy-foods cookbook can help you prepare meals that are both nutritious and delicious. The nutritional labels on many foods can also help you keep track of what you are eating.

Eating a heart-healthy diet

Instead of:

Try:

Frying your food Baking, broiling, steaming, poaching, or grilling your food
Eating convenience foods (canned soups, TV dinners, frozen pizza) Eating fresh fish, meats, fruits, and vegetables
Using butter or oil high in saturated fat Using products low in saturated fat, such as olive oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, or chicken broth
Using salt, soy sauce, or barbecue sauce Using spices
Eating all of the meat product Trimming fat from meat and skin from chicken
Eating egg yolks Eating egg whites or egg substitutes

Why is it important to exercise?

You can also lower your risk of future heart-related problems by exercising on a regular basis. Try to do activities that raise your heart rate. Try to do moderate exercise for at least 2½ hours a week. One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Exercise can help:

  • Reduce your weight. Losing weight can indirectly improve CAD by lowering your blood pressure and may have a direct effect on CAD as well.
  • Lower your cholesterol level. Exercise can lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels and raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol, which directly reduces the risk of CAD.
  • Improve the overall health of your circulatory system. A rigorous exercise program can also improve the ability of your heart to function and can increase blood flow throughout your body.
  • Lower your blood pressure.

Why should I try to reduce stress?

Stress increases the frequency of chest pain (angina), and some studies have shown that stress increases the number of angina episodes and heart attacks a person has. Stress increases your heartbeat and can make your blood pressure go up. Whether through exercise, meditation, or changes in your lifestyle, you can learn to manage the stress in your life and its effects on your health.

Try the following steps to reduce your stress level:

  • Take a moment to think about what's bothering you. Ask yourself, "Is this really that important?"
  • Set aside some time for yourself each day to do something you find relaxing.
  • Stay connected to your family, friends, and other supportive people in your life.
  • Exercise.
  • Try deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
  • Keep a sense of humor about life.
  • Join a support group in your community.
  • Seek help if you feel overwhelmed.

A healthy lifestyle can help prevent CAD from becoming worse. You have both a medical support network and your own emotional support network to make your necessary lifestyle changes.

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