Recovering from a heart attack can seem like a very long process. Your doctor may recommend that you change everything, from what you eat to your normal physical activity routine.

These changes can greatly improve your overall health and, most importantly, reduce your risk of having another heart attack.

Here are nine steps you can take to beat the odds.

1. Don’t smoke

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and should be avoided at all costs. If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor to find a plan to help you quit.

Tobacco causes blood clots, damages your blood vessels, and can make it difficult for blood and oxygen to reach your heart and other organs. Nicotine also raises your blood pressure. And, while you’re at it, stay away from secondhand smoke too. It can be harmful even if you’re a nonsmoker.

2. Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, stresses your heart and blood vessels. Lifestyle changes such as exercising, following a low-sodium diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your blood pressure. Your doctor may also prescribe beta-blockers to help.

There are two kinds of cholesterol: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good” cholesterol, and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol.

Too much bad cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and another heart attack. Your doctor may prescribe statins to lower the level of LDL. Regular exercise and eating a heart-healthy diet can also play a role in lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

3. Check for and manage diabetes

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are related to insulin hormone levels. People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, whereas those with type 2 don’t produce enough insulin or use it correctly.

Both types of diabetes increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. If you have diabetes, managing it with medication, exercise, and dietary changes is vital to reducing the chance of a second heart attack.

4. Get regular physical exercise

Whether you walk, jog, run, cycle, swim, or dance, regular cardiovascular exercise strengthens your heart, and lowers your LDL level and blood pressure. It also helps relieve stress, boost your energy level, and helps with weight management.

With so many positive effects, it’s no wonder the recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise — about 30 minutes a day. Before starting an exercise regimen, be sure to get your healthcare provider’s approval.

5. Maintain a healthy weight

Carrying extra weight requires your heart to work harder and less efficiently. Even if you have no other risk factors, excess body fat puts you at higher risk for a heart attack. Talk to your doctor if you’re having trouble losing weight. They can recommend a weight loss program or treatment plan to help you change unhealthy behaviors.

6. Eat a heart-healthy diet

A diet that is high in saturated and trans fats can cause plaque to build up in your arteries. This buildup slows or prevents blood flow to your heart and can result in a heart attack or heart failure.

By cutting down on saturated fat and trans fat, you can lower your level of bad cholesterol. Modify your diet to include less red meat, salt, sugar, and high-fat dairy products. Add in more fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.

7. Control your stress level

After a heart attack, it’s normal for you to experience a wide range of emotions.

You may feel depressed, especially if you find it hard to adjust to new lifestyle changes. You may also worry about having another heart attack and feel easily angered and irritable. Discuss your mood swings with your doctor and family, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

8. Adhere to your medications

After a heart attack, your doctor will likely prescribe treatment to prevent another heart attack. It’s important that you stick with the treatment to keep yourself healthy.

Some of the treatments you may be given are:

  • Beta-blockers. These treat high blood pressure and other heart conditions by reducing the heart rate and the workload of the heart.
  • Antithrombotics (antiplatelets/anticoagulants). These help prevent blood clots. These are usually prescribed if you underwent a cardiac procedure like angioplasty or received a stent.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. These medications treat high blood pressure and heart failure by interfering with the body’s production of angiotensin, a chemical in the body that causes the arteries to constrict.
  • Statins. These medications help the body process and remove bad cholesterol. This not only lowers cholesterol, but also protects the inner lining of the arteries.

Your doctor will decide which treatment is best for you based on your situation.

9. Maintain regular contact with your doctor

Your doctor can’t monitor your progress and make necessary adjustments if they don’t know what’s going on. Keep all your scheduled appointments, and make sure your doctor is aware of your progress or any setbacks, especially if you’re experiencing any pain. Open and honest communication is key to preventing a second cardiac incident.

The takeaway

You have the power and tools to reduce your risk of a second heart attack — use them! These changes will not only reduce your risk of a second heart attack, but also help ease your worries about another incident. Plus, they’ll help you look and feel better overall.