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How to make your first heart attack your last

After surviving a heart attack, it’s understandable if you feel down about this critical health setback. But you may be motivated to get healthier and vow, “I’m not doing that again!”

Each year, about 450,000 people suffer a recurrent heart attack, says the American Heart Association (AHA). Talk with your healthcare provider about following these guidelines from the AHA and American College of Cardiology to prevent a second heart attack:

  • Stop smoking. Enroll in a program, use cessation aids and urge those around you to quit, too.
  • Keep your blood pressure under control. Your goal should be less than 140/90 mm Hg or, if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, less than 130/80 mm Hg.
  • Lower your cholesterol. Your goal is to get your LDL (bad) cholesterol at least below 100 mg/dL. Dietary strategies include reducing saturated fats to less than 7 percent of your total calories, limiting trans fat and keeping the amount of cholesterol you eat to less than 200 milligrams (mg) a day. In addition, you should include more omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in fish) in your diet or take a 1 gram (g) fish oil capsule every day. Add at least 10 g of fiber and 2 g of plant stanols or sterols (found in some fortified margarines and orange juices) to your daily intake.
  • Get active! Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise every day—such as brisk walking. Add resistance training twice a week. Ask your doctor for an “exercise prescription.”
  • Manage diabetes. Keep your blood sugar under control so your A1C (a measure of your average blood glucose over two to three months) is less than 7 percent.
  • Get to a healthy weight. Your body mass index should be 18.5 to 24.9 and waist circumference should measure less than 40 inches (men) or 35 inches (women).
  • Take medications. Your doctor will likely prescribe an anti-platelet agent like aspirin in addition to an ACE-inhibitor, beta-blocker and/or cholesterol-lowering therapy.
  • Get your flu shot. Schedule this vaccine annually.