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Heart attack

Leisure, travel and hobbies after a heart attack

How a heart attack affects people's quality of life may be influenced to a greater or less extent by how severe their heart attack was, how much of the heart has been damaged, what treatments or medications have been given and how effective they are.

Long term, many people said they could still do the things they had enjoyed before, such as gardening, playing golf or football, swimming, walking, dancing, cycling or voluntary work. One man who learnt to play golf and played for five years after his heart attack, said that physically his heart attack hadn't significant affected what he could do.

 

His heart attack hasn't stopped him doing anything that he had done before.

His heart attack hasn't stopped him doing anything that he had done before.

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 51
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Yes, I mean, I think if I was to look back, has anything has it actually stopped me doing things that I was doing before and I'd say no. 

I would say that life, life on the whole has returned to where it was beforehand, except that, aware that it's happened and therefore although it's in the back of your mind, it's not something that worries me, but one is just a little bit more circumspect, certainly as far as eating is concerned, and aware that one ought to take exercise. 

But as far as holidays are concerned, then we're still, you know, we're going on the holidays or that sort of leisure pattern that we did before.

 

He learnt to play golf, and played for five years after his heart attack.

He learnt to play golf, and played for five years after his heart attack.

Age at interview: 71
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 65
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So I don't think there's anything. I didn't start playing golf until I retired; the morning I had the indigestion, I had the first lesson. I phoned the Golf Pro up and said, 'I don't know what your golf lessons do but I'm not sure I should have any more.' [laughs]. 

So yes, I played five years of golf until this year. It hasn't really affected me. I get confused now because we are moving over in to more cerebral pursuits. 

My wife has just graduated from the OU with an Arts degree and so we go to an Arts, a Womans Voluntary Association arts course in [the local town], which is the benefit of living in this area. We get the Head of the [the local university] Arts department come and lecture to us. 

So we go off on trips to art galleries and we do an awful lot of babysitting at the moment. So I'm shifting away from lots of heavy physical stuff. Got the garden sorted out since, since I had the heart attack. 

So an awful lot of it is now, it looks after itself, there's no maintenance to it, you know we put shrubs in where there used to be beds, so you're not out there forever cutting away at that. But I don't think it's really physically affected me at all.

Another man, whose hobby was driving steam locomotives, for which he needed a HGV licence, had to pass various exercise tests in order to get his HGV licence agreed, so that he could continue with his hobby. A 70-year-old man, who had been very fit and had been very active windsurfing, walking and rock climbing before his heart attack, said he could still enjoy most of his previous activities. One 62-year-old woman said she no longer felt confident doing the things she used to enjoy and she thought it had made her behave as though she was old.

 

She doesn't feel confident to do the activities she did before she had her heart attack.

She doesn't feel confident to do the activities she did before she had her heart attack.

Age at interview: 63
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 63
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Yes I'd like to see how other people cope with their lives. It might help me to come to terms with it if you like because it, I still feel I shouldn't have had it at my age. 

You know I don't feel old. I don't, I don't want to be classed as old, but now I do old things, if you like, whereas before I wouldn't do it. Now I, I sit at home and I make a rug whereas before I would have gone with my sister horse riding or something, but I won't go now. So if you like it's made me old.

Some people had angina, or breathlessness, or they tired more easily, which affected what they could do, or they did what they had done before, but just at a slower pace. One man who had, had bypass surgery a month after having a heart attack said that he didn't lift heavy loads and if he felt tired, he would rest and then carry on. Another explained that now he got breathless walking up a hill, and it could bring on an angina attack. Another man found it frustrating that he got what seemed to be angina attacks when he was looking forward to doing something.

 

He gets breathless sometimes, but can do most of what he did before, though more slowly.

He gets breathless sometimes, but can do most of what he did before, though more slowly.

Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 66
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I attempt everything that I used to do. I even do the decorating, just at a slower pace. But everything, I do the garden, whereas what I might have done in half a day probably takes a day and a half to two days to do, by way of digging. I don't think there's anything really that I've had to stop doing. Swimming, I used to enjoy swimming but I don't do as much of that as I used to do.

The biggest problem I have from time to time is getting somewhat breathless and I just have to sit down and take it easy. And occasionally I increase one of the tablets, which is by arrangement with the doctor. If I do have a problem with being breathless, increase the one of the tablets for a day or so and then it settles down. 

But that's the main problem that I have now, from time to time and sometimes without sort of too much effort the breathlessness occurs. But generally I feel and a number of people, quite a number of people say 'Well you're looking alright,' and I think, yes I feel alright today but there are days when I'm not one hundred per cent but in general terms, I feel reasonably well. 

And just get along with life. As I said, we take our holidays, we go caravanning. I know when I've done enough. What I do, shall I say, I do at a slower pace than what I might otherwise have been doing it at.

 

He doesn't lift heavy loads and if he feels tired, he rests for a while then carries on.

He doesn't lift heavy loads and if he feels tired, he rests for a while then carries on.

Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 67
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Now if you were to ask me what I don't do now that I used to do, the answer is very little and the only thing I avoid doing now is lifting heavy loads. I still lift loads, I still do work, in fact, I've just finished painting the outside of my house. 

And I do a lot of work; I do gardening but I don't lift heavy loads and I'm a little bit careful putting anything above my head too high, so I avoid these. But I can't think of any other tips that would help. 

Well if we're talking about it, the one thing I would say to you is if you're doing something and you feel tired, go and have a rest. You don't have to finish it there and then. Don't put yourself under pressure, be patient and if you feel tired, stop, go and have a rest. 

 

He gets breathless walking up a hill or it brings on an angina attack.

He gets breathless walking up a hill or it brings on an angina attack.

Age at interview: 63
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 53
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I physically got fitter, I was able to take the dog out again. Gradually getting better but always having angina, and having the same problem that many people with heart problems have; not being able to walk up hills. Now I'm fortunate we've got, we're in a valley so I'm unfortunate in that whichever way I try to leave the village there's a hill to get up. 

But there is a canal and the path from where the locks are, and of course it's very flat and I can walk for hours and hours and so can the dog. So my legs and so on improved, but not my stamina, to this day I cannot get fit. I cannot run, if I had to run across the road because there was a bus coming, I'd have angina. The slightest hill I've learned to stop, get my breath back, and then carry on. 

But a little hill that you'd, you'd cycle up, and think nothing of, I can sometimes have to stop three times, otherwise I know I'm going to get angina. And not every day's the same. I get out of breath very, very quickly going up a hill, but I don't always get angina. But I'm always aware the angina's there, so I've always got panic pills with me, I call them 'panic pills' [GTN tablets].  

 

He gets an angina attack when he is looking forward to doing something.

He gets an angina attack when he is looking forward to doing something.

Age at interview: 51
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 51
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Now the angina comes with excitement and that is really annoying. When I am going to enjoy something, when I'm looking forward to seeing some friends we haven't seen for a long time, they're coming for the evening or something like that. 

Or we're going out to go and do something and you know, I just cite the example of when I had my heart attack, you see I was going to cycle out in the New Forest and I was really looking forward to that and I think looking back now that it was the excitement and the adrenaline that caused the heart attack in that instant, that moment. 

And likewise now it's giving me angina, which is really annoying, just at the moment when I say right we're off, we're going to do something you know I'm going to go for a lovely long walk or going to see family or friends, people we haven't seen and I get chest pain again.

For some people, the heart attack had affected what they could do. One man who developed heart failure after a severe heart attack, described feeling tired easily which affected his daily life. A man, who was 70 when he had his heart attack, had reduced many of his commitments on social committees that he had been active on.

 

He has heart failure after a severe heart attack and now he tires easily which affects his daily...

He has heart failure after a severe heart attack and now he tires easily which affects his daily...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
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Every day I'll need some kind of rest, this has been a well-used couch if you will and, and that's anything from half an hour to 3 hours. I just have to lie down and, and you, the tiredness it's difficult to describe. 

It's like, if you'd doing a series of exams, 3 or 4 exams and you've not slept in between or anybody that's had young children, very young children, those first few months particularly if they're not sleeping and you're the one that's having to get up or you sharing it between you, and you get 3 or 4 nights of no sleep or hardly any, where your brain can't think, you can't digest the information, you actually don't want anything there beyond you, you don't, you can hear a television but if somebody asks you a question, well that's now too much information. 

I can't take two things at the same time. I have to turn one off, [pause] and automatically that's, well I'm not listening to you, it, that's how it goes, it, it's just so fatiguing and its, my family get the brunt of that unfortunately.

Some people's heart attack led them to make really positive changes in their lives. Some took up new sporting or other activities, things they would not have attempted to do before. Others started adult education classes, and attended computer courses. One man said that attending adult education classes gave him something to do, and helped to take his mind off his condition when he couldn't work for a year while waiting for bypass surgery.

 

Adult education classes gave him something to do when he couldn't work while waiting for his...

Adult education classes gave him something to do when he couldn't work while waiting for his...

Age at interview: 62
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 59
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And then when I start going out, it is a very, very strange feeling when you used to wake up every day at 6 o'clock in the morning and finish at 7 and 8 o'clock, 9 o'clock in the night, five days a week. 

And then all of a sudden you find yourself with nothing at all and you can sleep till 9 o'clock and 10 o'clock in the morning, you wake up, have your breakfast at 10, 11 and then watch the television or read a story or write something or sit at the computer. It's a totally different life which I really enjoyed it to start with, I [laughs] it was quite nice [laughs]. 

And I used to go to the, you know wake up in the morning at 9 o'clock instead of 6 and then have my breakfast, have a shower and walk down to the town centre and then come back at 1 o'clock. I really enjoyed it for the first few months but after that I'm fed up. You know I thought, this is not the way I want to live the rest of my life, I have to do something otherwise I will go mad.

So I start, the first thing I did there was computer courses in the college so I joined them and I did all the A Levels, all the first level of computer courses they ever have. [laughs]  And then I said, the second thing I might use, I also went on a DIY course which was very good, I said I want to know a little bit about how to do things you know in a semi-professional way or at least know exactly what to do if something happens. So I went to that.  

And then after that I went to other courses in the, in the college and that filled up my time completely that I had no thoughts of heart attacks or any disaster happen or anything. [laughs] And that was really, that was the change after the three months, because after the three months I was very happy and then all of a sudden I stopped and I said, this is not my life and I have to do something, either I go back to medicine or do something, So when I start doing all of these things everything fall in to place.  

One 37-year-old woman, who had occasional angina pains, started cycling, walking and mountain climbing with her family. A 42-year-old man jogged and walked the Tower of London ten kilometres race for charity, three years after his heart attack. Another man walked the Great Wall of China for charity, two years after his second heart attack.

 

She does more outdoor activities since her heart attack.

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She does more outdoor activities since her heart attack.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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Now, five years later, I'm probably healthier than I ever was. I do a lot of power walking now. I'm a lot fitter now; I climbed Ben Nevis, whereas five years ago I used to smoke. I wasn't big and fat, but I don't suppose I was into keep fit - not into keep fit, but into exercising. 

We didn't do as much exercise as what we do now. We didn't go on bike riding holidays. We go camping now, and we go bike riding holidays. We do a lot of walking, where I suppose we did a lot of driving. We do things we'd never done. We do a lot of mountain climbing. 

 

He walked the Great Wall of China two years after his second heart attack.

He walked the Great Wall of China two years after his second heart attack.

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 47
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We met at Heathrow, I'd never seen any of the people before; I didn't know any of them. They were mostly much younger than me. There were a couple of older ones. One chap I shared a room with from [town], who was the only other diabetic and there was one guy in his thirties who had a heart transplant. 

But we boarded an Air China flight for Beijing, arrived there. I had made the mistake of ordering diabetic food, which one shouldn't do on an aircraft, I realise now. We saw the sites of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City on the first day. Then walked off to walk the lesser wall and I realised then despite having done some training on the hills around [the local area], how much of a challenge the Wall is and how fit all these other ones were. 

But I must say, I got a great deal of support from the younger ones, many of whom were in nursing and things like that and they really fairly well looked after me, but I could party with the best of them. 

There was a lady doctor who was the police doctor for part of South London and she walked with us. But the first day fell and broke her kneecap, but she kept up with, us, with a vehicle and her leg in weird Chinese plaster. And we walked different sections of the Wall each day; we did 20,000 plus steps, up and down, which someone counted, a lady from [town] I think. 

About, I think it was 140km of the Wall in different bits and it was an amazing experience and I've kept in touch with a lot of people.  

Most people could go on holiday and fly after they had a heart attack, or had heart surgery. A few chose to only go to places where they felt there would be good medical facilities, or they checked that the hotel was not situated on a steep hill. One man explained that a holiday with his wife in Spain had been another stepping stone towards his recovery. One woman, who had a heart attack eight months ago, was not yet confident enough to travel far from her local hospital. A man who had his heart attack ten years ago and had no complications since, talked about the holidays he went on and the snorkelling he did.

 

He checked that the hotel was not near a steep hill when he went on his first holiday after his...

He checked that the hotel was not near a steep hill when he went on his first holiday after his...

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 65
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And we've already been away to a hotel in England. We picked it with very great care, the one we went to. We went to [town] and it sounded like the old crocks outing because we went with our friends. I've had a heart attack, [my friend] whose had knee surgery, another friend whose had knee surgery, so could we walk up from the beach. 

So we chose this. We rang round the hotels in [town} and said, 'are you fairly close to the beach or is there a walk down', and they said, 'oh we're just a 100 yards up the high street'. So we went. And it was quite a steep slope and we were all, you're always a bit apprehensive until you've done these things and then we went, one day while we were at [town] we went to [town].

Now to go down to [town], people who know [town] it's a side of a house jump. And we went down because there's a nice little caf', we had a cup of tea down there and whatever, and I sailed back up there, and after I'd done that I thought I can do anything, I can go up the side of a house and I passed our two friends who were coming up with their knees because they climbed as well.

So yes, holidays we look forward to and it was another stepping stone. I went up the slope from [town] and those are the things that you can see as stepping stones. You do something a bit more and you succeed and you think I can do it once, I can do it again. In fact I did do it twice at [town].

 

Taking a holiday abroad during his recovery felt like another stepping stone towards normal.

Taking a holiday abroad during his recovery felt like another stepping stone towards normal.

Age at interview: 46
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 42
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But when we went we went to Neurka in Spain and it's somewhere that we've been before and so we knew, I mean it sounds funny now but we knew there was a big hospital in [town], that there was another one within half an hour away. 

We knew that there were a number of ex-pats out there and my view was there's a lot of old people, old ex-pats who live out there and they must all be getting ill [laughs] so they must have good medical facilities out there. And so, but it was just looking back odd that we had to consider, that we considered all that before deciding on where we'd go. 

But it was nice to go back to somewhere where we'd been before and it seems to be a reoccurring theme of having sort of different comfort zones. But I needed it and but once you're there you forget that was one of the reasons why we went. And I think that flying, going abroad, you know it was all another step to normality. 

How long after was this?

That would've been for about, about three and a half, four months after. And if somebody had said to me, 'you know, right you're going to have a heart attack but don't worry, three and a half, four months later you'll be on the beach in Spain.' I wouldn't have thought that was possible. But we did take it easy,

 

She does not yet feel confident enough to travel far from her local hospital.

She does not yet feel confident enough to travel far from her local hospital.

Age at interview: 63
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 63
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At the moment I don't feel I ever will be confident enough again. And I, we were going to go on holiday with my sister to Portugal because last year we went and we had a lovely time and we said we'd go again this year.  

I won't fly. I don't want to go which was a little bit upsetting for my sister. We had a few words because she didn't understand how I felt. I don't suppose she ever will understand how I felt, but there is no way I am leaving the country. And there's no way I'm leaving Wales. It takes me all my time to go to [the local town] because if anything happens to me, I want to go to the hospital nearby.

 

His heart attack ten years ago with no complications since, has not prevented him from going on...

His heart attack ten years ago with no complications since, has not prevented him from going on...

Age at interview: 64
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 54
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You can do anything you want. As I say, we're going on holiday shortly, we love cruising although we haven't been on one for a while because we have a daughter in Australia, so we had to do a family visit to Australia. We've a son in the States, so we had to do a family visit to the States. 

So this time it's a holiday for us; about ten islands in about fourteen days round the Caribbean and every other day, we're snorkelling. Not bothered about seeing the sites of plantations and that, we've done all that. Get me in the water, the snorkelling. I can't dive because of my asthma but I'd love to, so I can snorkel. 

You can do anything you want if you're fit enough and you don't have complications after a heart attack. I pity the people who do have complications and I come across an awful lot of them as Chairman and I sympathise with them. But even they can get over it and a lot have.

Most said, that after searching around, they could get travel insurance.

 

Describes his experience of getting medical insurance for his holiday in Canada.

Describes his experience of getting medical insurance for his holiday in Canada.

Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 70
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We still go on trips. We were in Canada this year for a month. We've been there two or three times since. The only thing is the medical insurance that affects that, although it's not bad. You see I've had no repercussions really since I had that heart attack and I'm on the medication. They take that in to consideration. I get through.

Did you find that the insurance company, did you have to find a special company?

We had to find a special company. You know the first company when I talked about going first to Canada, which was '99, I think we went. They were looking for two hundred pound, two hundred and sixty pound off me to cover me, you know.  

And I spoke to the cardiologist and he said 'tell them to write to me', he said and 'I'll deal with it', which I never had to do because the agent that I eventually booked with got in touch with a company, gave me the phone number, ring, tell them, they said 'Okay, you're covered.' And it was for a very nominal sum. As little as forty odd pound, you know.

So there are ways round.

Oh there are ways round it, yes. And I've gone with them a couple of times since and there's never been any problem with them.

The British Heart Foundation has compiled a list of sympathetic insurance companies that can help people who have a heart condition see their website for more details.

Last reviewed June 2017.

Last updated June 2017.

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