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May 08, 2013

Heart Patients Slow to Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Despite benefits, many heart patients fail to adopt healthy lifestyle changes following diagnosis.

Smart lifestyle choices, like eating healthy and staying active, can help all types of patients improve their health. Lifestyle changes are especially important for patients who have had a heart attack or stroke, or have already developed heart disease. Even if a patient has cardiovascular disease, it doesn’t mean they’re too far gone—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Patients with heart disease can greatly reduce their risk of complications or recurrent heart events by adopting healthy lifestyle changes. However, few patients adhere to recommendations and a recent study shows that more than 14% of patients worldwide failed to make any lifestyle changes after developing heart disease.

This global study, called the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, included more than 7,500 patients from high, middle and low-income countries. Subjects were enrolled in the study when they developed heart disease or suffered a heart attack, and were interviewed about five years following their diagnosis. Researchers focused on three healthy behaviors—smoking cessation, physical activity and healthy eating—all of which are recommended to patients at the time of diagnosis to reduce cardiovascular risk. Overall, 42.7% of participants adopted at least one healthy behavior, 30.6% adopted two healthy behaviors, and 4.3% followed all healthy guidelines. However, how likely participants were to adopt healthy behaviors varied greatly by income. Participants from high- and middle-income countries were anywhere from 1.42 to 2.7 times more likely to adopt healthy behaviors than those in low-income countries.

Getting heart disease patients to adopt healthy lifestyle changes is extremely important, since they’re already at increased risk for heart events, like heart attack and stroke. However, this study shows that few heart patients adhere to recommendations following diagnosis, and patients in lower-income countries are even less likely to adopt healthy lifestyle changes compared to patients in wealthier countries. To address this issue, it’s important that all patients with heart conditions are provided the resources and support necessary to understand the importance of adopting healthy lifestyle changes and, most importantly, help them incorporate those changes into their lives. Since adoption of health behaviors varies by country, it’s also important to tailor these efforts to meet the needs of each individual country in order to be effective and help patients reduce their risk of complications or recurrent heart attack or stroke.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Is it safe to exercise after a heart attack?
  • Although many patients are nervous to exercise after a heart attack, research shows that regular exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen the heart and reduce risk of a recurrent heart attack. It’s important that heart attack patients work closely with their healthcare providers to create an exercise program that is safe for them.
  • What is the best exercise for heart attack patients?
  • In general, aerobic exercise and strength training are recommended for heart attack patients. Aerobic exercise includes activities like walking or jogging, and strength training can include lifting weights or using resistance bands to build muscle. However, it’s important that heart attack patients work closely with their providers to create a workout program that’s right for them.

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