Key Takeaways

    • Positive health behaviors that promote heart health include good sleep hygiene, exercise, a healthy diet, and avoiding all substances.
    • Taking your medications and attending all your medical appointments is the best way to reduce your risk of future cardiac events. 
    • Create a routine to ensure these healthy behaviors are within your control.
    • It’s important to gradually adjust to these health behaviors so your body and mind have time to catch up to the changes you’re making.
How can I be healthier after my cardiac arrest?

After you survive cardiac arrest, you will often hear from people, “You should take care of yourself.” But what does that really mean, and why does it matter? Some of our health-related behaviors have the potential to change our risk for future serious heart- or brain-related events. This article talks about behaviors or actions you could take to decrease that risk. It also discusses the importance of good sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, compliance with medications, and doctor’s appointments.

Prioritize activities that help you feel healthy

Life can get really busy, and our days can fill up with many tasks to complete, so it can be easy for things to get in the way of living a healthy life. It can help to list out the things you can control that will help you feel your best. Try to prioritize these tasks:

    • Develop good sleep habits.
    • Schedule time for healthy activities like walking, stretching, meditating, and exercising.
    • Set aside time to look for new healthy recipes to try. Make a meal plan, and have good, fresh, healthy foods and snacks available.
    • Set aside time in the week for restful activities that can help you recharge (watching a movie, reading, art, puzzles, etc.).
    • Stay compliant with your medical appointments and recommendations, including taking your medications on time.
Importance of good sleep

When you have a night of good sleep, you wake up feeling well rested with a clear head. Good quality sleep can help you feel like your best self. Healthy sleep patterns improve learning, memory, creativity, and mood. Healthy sleep also strengthens the immune system and makes it easier to maintain a healthy diet. In contrast, if you aren’t getting healthy sleep, you might feel slow, foggy, depressed, and low energy. Sometimes, it is obvious when you are not sleeping well. In other cases, poor sleep and its adverse effects accumulate gradually, so it’s possible to become accustomed to them without recognizing the impact they are having on your health and life.

If you find yourself having difficulty getting up, concentrating throughout the day, or staying awake, you might have developed poor sleep habits. Take a step back and consider your sleep habits and nightly experience of sleep. 

Good sleep includes: 1) getting enough hours of sleep. Most adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep each night; 2) the ability to quickly sleep once in bed; 3) reduce breaks so you can sleep through the night; and 4) maintain a regular bedtime and not sleep during the day.

Some general tips for developing good sleep hygiene

If you are having trouble sleeping, here are some things that may help improve your sleep:

    • Set a sleep schedule. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, including weekends.
    • Set up a bedtime routine you look forward to that helps you wind down 30 minutes before bed, including disconnecting from devices. Maybe it’s drinking tea, having a bath, reading a book, or setting up a diffuser with calming essential oil.
    • If you find many worrisome thoughts coming to you at bedtime, keep a notepad at your bedside to write them down. Set up a consistent time for “worry” during the day where you can resolve the concerns in the notepad.
    • Consider how your environment affects your sleep. Do you wake up in the middle of the night because of the temperature? Have you considered a sleep mask to block out light? Dark, cool, and quiet rooms are ideal.
    • Reduce your caffeine intake. This includes coffee, tea, and soda. Avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed.
    • If you can’t sleep after 20-30 minutes, try getting out of bed and doing something relaxing (or boring!) until you are ready to sleep (e.g., reading, calming music, folding laundry, etc.). 
    • Take short naps during the day if needed to help you rest and feel refreshed. However, sleeping too much during the day can cause difficulty sleeping at night. If naps are needed, consider setting a timer for a quick nap.

If you think you might have a sleep disorder, reach out to your medical care team.

The importance of exercise

Inactivity is when you do not exercise beyond basic life activities, including household chores. Regular physical activity is at the center of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health conditions.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of heart-pumping physical activity per week. Immediate benefits of exercise include improved sleep and lower blood pressure. Long-term benefits of exercise include improved brain health, heart health, and bone health.  

After experiencing a sudden cardiac event like a cardiac arrest, you might be hesitant to feel your heart beating fast or shortness of breath. This fear is understandable. It may feel scary to go back to exercising after having a cardiac arrest, and you may feel worried about doing certain exercises and movements. If you were very active before your cardiac arrest, it may feel frustrating not to be able to get right back into exercising at the same intensity that you did before. It’s important to talk to your medical care team about what exercise is appropriate for you and set expectations. 

Some hospitals may have a cardiac rehab program that you can participate in. You may be able to work with an exercise specialist who can help design workout programs that are appropriate for people who are recovering from cardiac-related issues and have ICDs. Listen to your body, and don’t push yourself.

Some general tips to help you go from physical inactivity to exercise
    • Start small. Do not avoid everyday activities. Even though your loved one wants to help put away the groceries, this is an opportunity for you to stretch.
    • Get an exercise partner. This person should monitor you to ensure you’re not pushing yourself past a healthy limit (safety first) but also motivate you to keep going.
    • Walk for at least 10 minutes at a time. As you feel more comfortable, walk for longer.
    • Slowly increase the level and duration of exercise. When you feel comfortable with the level of exercise you’re doing, do a bit more. Increase your exercise intensity, frequency, or duration.
    • Stick to the exercise routine you make. Marathon runners didn’t just wake up one day and do it; they trained consistently for a long time. Similarly, start small, but most importantly, keep at it for long-term health benefits.
    • Consider a wearable exercise-tracking device.  Many devices also track heart rate, blood oxygen, sleep duration, and other useful health behavior information.
Information about a healthy diet

Eating healthy is about consuming foods and drinks that give you energy and mental clarity while minimizing the harm food can do to your body and its functions. Eating healthy looks different to different people, depending on your culture, the food options available in your neighborhood, and even the type of brands carried in local grocery stores. It is important to your health to make the healthiest food choices available to you.

As you think about what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat, be kind. Your mindset matters too. Sharing a meal is about connecting with family and friends and nourishing your mind, body, and soul.

Some general tips as you search for the right diet for you:
    • Replace more processed options with less processed foods.
    • Limit sugar intake.
    • Veggies should make up more than half of your plate at every meal.
    • Eating a rainbow of colors every day provides many different nutrients.
    • Replace unhealthier fats with healthier fats, like omega-3 (from seafood, nuts, and seeds), monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado), and saturated fats (coconut oil, eggs, good quality meats).
    • Avoid fried foods.

It might help to think of a healthy diet as adding more healthy foods to your plate, instead of the restrictive mindset of limiting the foods you eat. It can be helpful to read about what benefits different foods can provide your body and find creative ways to incorporate them into your everyday meals. The internet has many blogs and websites that provide information and inspiration. 

If you want a professional opinion, seek out a nutritionist or dietician. They can help you develop a personalized plan based on your health needs.

Controlling alcohol, smoking, and intake of other substances

Survivors of life-threatening conditions tend to increase their frequency and amount consumed of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances including marijuana, cocaine, and others. If you reach for them when stressed, for example, then you will need to find an alternative way to handle stress.

Heavy drinking can increase your risk of developing or worsening serious health conditions. Depending upon the cause of your cardiac arrest, this risk will vary, and you should certainly discuss appropriate amounts with your primary heart doctors. Certainly, there are several benefits to reducing alcohol use, including improvements to your physical and mental health. Some of the benefits include:

    • Healthier liver
    • Healthier skin and hair
    • Improved mood
    • More energy
    • Better sleep

But knowing the benefits of reducing alcohol use does not mean it’s easy to change your behavior. Changing habits is always hard at first, but the ultimate goal of living a healthy life is worth it! And you might inspire your family and friends to make the change, too.

Some general tips to control alcohol intake
    • It is important to understand your relationship with alcohol. Speak to your family, friends, and doctor about your alcohol consumption. They may be able to provide support to help you navigate the alcohol withdrawal process.
    • Avoid people, places, or things that make you want to drink more, and seek support from family and friends. 
    • If you drink while socializing with friends, consider reaching for nonalcoholic beers, wines, and cocktails. Many bars and restaurants provide creative and delicious nonalcoholic alternatives that you can enjoy while out with friends, so you don’t have to feel like cutting out alcohol means cutting out socializing. There are also some bars dedicated to providing nonalcoholic options.

The use of cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, vapes, or other tobacco or nicotine products are harmful to your health. Quitting smoking lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke. You may also experience improvements in your quality of life, like heightened taste, reduced long-term risk of disease, and even financial savings. Studies have found the benefits of quitting smoking start as early as the first 24 hours. Quitting also helps your family and friends by reducing their exposure to secondhand smoke, which is harmful to their health. 

At first, you might experience withdrawal symptoms like difficulty sleeping, restlessness, irritation, and cravings. Ways to overcome the urge to smoke include engaging in a new activity like jogging, reaching out to a friend or family member to listen to or distract you, and removing yourself from situations or people that make you want to smoke. You can also seek support through aids like nicotine patches or nicotine gum. Withdrawal symptoms go away as you adjust to not smoking. 

Like all changes, quitting is hard. But quitting isn’t a single event, it’s a journey. It’s important that you completely stop smoking instead of switching to another form, like from a cigarette to an e-cigarette. If you want to quit but need help, reach out to a medical professional.

Maintain regular follow-ups with your doctors

Schedule routine follow-ups with all specialists, as recommended by your doctors. Consider these preventative visits. Do not wait until something feels wrong.

If you would like to see a specialist, reach out to your primary care doctor for a recommendation or referral. There are mental health professionals to help you and your family deal with stress, anxiety, depression, and other conditions. There are social workers and case managers that can help you navigate complex financial and legal issues concerning your medical treatment plan. Even becoming familiar with your local pharmacist could help you stay more informed about your health. 

As you build a healthcare support team that you can turn to for your questions, remember that you’re also part of that team. You will have professional support informing you of symptoms that need follow-up care, advising when your medication regimen might need to change, and providing encouragement as you change to positive health behaviors.

Taking your medications

It is important to take your medication as prescribed. Setting an alarm on your phone is a great way to ensure you take your medication on time as prescribed. 

If you take multiple medications or take medications multiple times in a day, consider a pill box to help you organize yourself. With a pill box, you can visually see if you have taken a medication or not, removing the stress of having to remember. Many pill boxes let you prepare a week’s worth of medication, creating a great opportunity for routine.

If you feel the frequency or dosage of your medication is not right for you, speak to your doctor.

Thank you to our contributors

Danielle Rojas & Katrysha Gellis

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