Make change a habit
We all have bad days, when it’s tempting to slip back into bad habits – especially once the initial shock of a heart attack has worn off.
But persevere with your healthy eating, smoke-free regime or that new exercise routine, and it may get easier. Research shows it takes 66 days of doing something new for it to become a habit.1
Try these tips for making those healthy lifestyle changes stick:2
1 Vary your diet to eat well for life
If you’ve made changes to your diet, avoid getting stuck in a rut with healthy eating, or you may revert to your old, unhealthy habits. Setting yourself a menu challenge will help. Why not set yourself a goal to make a new healthy meal each week?
If you want to lose weight, picture yourself pre-weightloss, next to a new, slimmer you, dig out a photo of yourself at your best and stick it up to inspire you.
Identify triggers for diet slip-ups and try to head them off. For example, take healthy snacks into work.
2 Cut back on alcohol – for good
Remembering why you’re changing old habits can help you stick with good intentions when your motivation is waning. Try sticking notes on the fridge or by your wine rack that remind you of the link between drinking and heart disease. Reading them will help you avoid temptation by reminding you of the consequences.
If you’re struggling, try reading an inspirational book or treating yourself to a motivating film. Take inspiration from others by reading biographies of people who’ve gone on to do extraordinary things after heart attacks, like Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Seeing others achieve the impossible will help you achieve your goals, too.
3. Giving up smoking
If quitting smoking was your first challenge and you’ve succeeded – well done! To keep up your good work, or to get started, it helps to have small reminders to hand of why you’re making the change.
If your reason for quitting is to be around to see your grandkids grow up or celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary, keep a picture of your spouse or grandchildren in your wallet for weaker moments.
Remember, you shouldn’t stop at one lifestyle change – keep challenging yourself so your progress doesn’t stagnate.
4 Be more active for life
Staying motivated long term is all about doing things you enjoy, especially with exercise.
Doing something because it’s ‘good for you’ isn’t likely to be a strong enough motivator. If you’re feeling uninspired by your regime, find something you like, be it dance lessons or walking the dog.
To stop you getting stuck in a rut, revisit your goals on a regular basis.
Break your goals down into very specific steps. For example, ‘I want to be able to swim 10 lengths a day in three months, so after seven days, I should be able to swim one length a day.’
Challenge yourself to try a new activity you haven’t been brave enough to before, and give yourself a boost by treating yourself to something you’ve always wanted.
‘Good communication can help you limit the impact of your diagnosis on your family,’ says Clare. Here are her top tips:
- Be open. Explaining your condition to your family will help them feel less overwhelmed. You could print some pages from this website to help them understand more.
- Share your feelings. You may worry about upsetting your family, but they are likely to sense your distress and feel helpless. Sharing your fears and being specific about your needs could reduce their anxiety because they’ll feel more in control.
- Show them how they can help. Help them to focus on what can be done to improve your health, like making positive lifestyle changes. Make specific requests – ask for a lift to the doctor’s or a reminder to take your medicines. Even children benefit from helping out with practicalities – going to the park together can help you get active and boost your spirits.
- Encourage them to talk. If you’re still quite unwell, your partner may have taken on the role of your carer, which can be physically and emotionally demanding. Encourage them not to bottle up their feelings, as this can lead to anxiety and depression. If they’re struggling to cope, suggest they look at www.carers.org or speak to their GP.
- Be prepared for the rollercoaster. It’s completely normal to feel relieved that you’re still alive, sad about the life you’ve left behind, frustrated, angry or irritable. Mood swings, feeling low and depression are also common after a heart attack. Make sure your family know the symptoms of depression and where to find help – such as from your GP surgery or cardiac rehab team.
- Let them know their support is valued. And they are likely to be making a difference – research shows those with good support networks recover better after a heart attack. 2
FIND OUT MORE:
‘My family helped me through.’ Read Paul’s inspiring story.
1Lally, P et al: ‘How are habits formed: modelling habit formation in the real world’: July 2009; European Journal of Social Psychology; https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.674
2All tips: Permission to Publish, Clare Moloney, Health psychology specialist, Atlantis Healthcare