03.01.2019 •

Improving Heart Health After A Heart Attack

If you are one of the millions of Canadians who have had a heart attack, you might be feeling overwhelmed trying to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.

Perhaps you’ve already made some life changes, but let’s cover the basics first because it’s important you are armed with some heart-health knowledge for lifestyle changes.

Stop smoking

If you’re a smoker, you’ve likely been told time and again to quit. While smoking is most often associated with cancer, it is also a serious risk factor for heart disease and strokes. “Light” or “mild” cigarettes are not better than regular ones because smokers then often take more longer, more frequent, or deeper puffs. Even occasional smoking can significantly up your risk factors for heart disease.

Yes, quitting can be very difficult, but in addition to medications, nicotine gum or skin patches, and pure willpower, there are several healthy alternative techniques to helping people kick the habit, including hypnosis, acupuncture, and meditation. If the first (or first few times) you don’t succeed in quitting, try and try again.

Don’t blame your genes

Heart disease can run in the family. But there is no need to panic (or throw in the towel). Cardiac illness is largely preventable, regardless of your family history.

The key to a healthy heart is managing the risk factors. Curbing your stress, regularly exercising, quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, and eating a healthy diet are just some of the many things you can do to nip hereditary hazards in the bud.

Cut down stress

Stress can increase your risk of heart disease. Chronic high levels of cortisol and adrenaline can constrict your arteries and increase blood pressure, potentially leading to angina (chest pain) or even a heart attack.

Practicing some regular de-stressing activities, such as yoga, meditation, or visualization techniques can help you better cope with stress. Prioritizing, asking for help, getting enough sleep, breath work, exercise, therapeutic treatments, and counselling are just some of the other stress-management supports you could employ.

Watch your weight

Being overweight can increase your chances of cardiovascular disease in a variety of ways. Those extra pounds can lead to high blood pressure and diabetes. What’s more, overweight people are more prone to lower levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol, which is widely accepted as a major risk factor.

Cutting back on processed foods, eating more fruits and vegetables, and exercising for at least 30 minutes three times a week will help you lose weight, as well as have a positive impact on your heart. If the usual healthy eating and exercising isn’t working, it may be worth talking to a health professional about potential underlying health conditions that may be impeding weight loss.

Move your body

There’s no question, exercise is a health basic. The heart is a muscle, and just like any other muscle, the key to keeping it in shape is to use it well. Exercise can benefit the heart by helping to elevate HDL, lower blood pressure, boost mood, strengthen heart muscle, improve circulation, and even lower stress.

Note that if you’ve recently had a heart attack, it’s particularly important to get appropriate guidance to the type and intensity of exercise you do.

Add reishi to your routine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the heart organ is considered “king”—the most important organ in the body. Because heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death, with a life taken by heart disease every seven minutes in Canada, it’s clear that we need to take care of this king.

There are a few ways that Japanese red reishi can contribute to better heart health. First of all, reishi is an adaptogenic, meaning it can help the body adapt to stressors. In TCM, though this herb has many functions, ling zhi (reishi) is categorized as an herb to calm the mind. By helping to manage stress and support the body’s ability to adapt to changes in external and internal environment, reishi can support bringing the body back to homeostatic balance.

Reishi mushrooms also contain a number of beneficial compounds that are continually being researched. Its sterols and triterpenes (two groupings of its compounds) may have blood pressure-lowering effects. A small study also showed that it can increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind) in those with borderline high cholesterol (the bad kind).

Further studies are being evaluated, as some animal studies have shown reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) to have cardioprotective effects by reducing the expression of genes associated with heart failure and by protecting mitochondria (the power organelles of your cells—how you get energy to do anything) of damaged heart cells.

If you’re taking medication, it’s important to discuss the addition of supplements with your health care providers, and while supplements cannot and should not replace basic healthy living, red reishi has a long history of use for improved wellness, including supporting healthy hearts.


Dr. Melissa Carr is a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. In practice since 2001, Dr. Carr has a passion for sharing health information. She has been a nutrition instructor and a health consultant, lecturer, and writer for 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper, Fraser Health Authority, UBC, and the David Suzuki Foundation, amongst others.
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