Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have your own personal coach and cheerleader—someone to help you live a more active and healthful life, and make it a priority? In many ways, this is what cardiac rehabilitation (cardiac rehab) programs do for people recovering from certain heart-related conditions and procedures.
How? Among other things, cardiac rehab offers one-on-one supervised exercise regimens, practical advice for heart-healthy eating and reducing stress, and support for managing medications, smoking cessation and other heart risk factors.
Studies of this three-month medically supervised program consistently show the advantages. Cardiac rehab helps participants feel better, live a heart-healthier lifestyle and regain strength. It can also help prevent future cardiac events—even death.
Yet many people who could benefit don’t. Why? First, patients may not be referred to a cardiac rehab program. Second, even when they are referred, they may not go. A recent study found that 1 in 3 patients who are eligible don’t receive a referral to cardiac rehab from their doctor, and only 1 in 4 patients referred actually went. So there is a big gap in accessing cardiac rehab programs.
Be sure to ask about cardiac rehab and take advantage of it if you can. Read on to find out more about this program, who should enroll and what to expect.
What is cardiac rehabilitation?
Cardiac rehab is a supervised exercise program that also provides education about nutrition, medication use and general lifestyle choices to help patients strengthen their hearts and lead healthier lives.
Your therapy team will work with you to tailor a program that fits your life and needs.
The main goal of any cardiac rehabilitation program is to lower the likelihood of future heart problems or related death. And as many people who’ve participated these programs can attest, it can help you feel better physically and emotionally and give you greater control over your health.
Through the program, you will learn how to:
“Cardiac rehab helps you make heart-healthy changes in your daily life and the rehab team gives guidance and encouragement to help you stay on course.” —Dr. Kameswari Maganti, Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation, Feinberg Pavilion, Northwestern University
Why is this type of program important?
Cardiac rehab can be lifesaving for many people. It can help to prevent future heart problems, cardiac events and related deaths. According to studies, people who go to cardiac rehab have up to 30% fewer fatal heart events, and are 25% less likely to die compared with people who get standard therapy alone. They also can lower their chance of a second heart attack or heart surgery.
People who enroll in this program typically have more success when it comes to controlling other cardiovascular risk factors (for example, high blood pressure or cholesterol). That’s because cardiac rehab programs are comprehensive, focusing on the whole patient and equipping him or her with the tools and information needed to make long-term health changes possible.
Other benefits include:
Who should take part in cardiac rehab?
Many people with a range of heart problems can benefit from cardiac rehab. It is often recommended for people who have:
What to expect?
Cardiac rehabilitation programs generally span three months, with sessions two or three times a week (usually 36 sessions over a 12-week time-period).
The program typically includes a combination of:
Generally, your exercise routine will include both aerobic exercise (to get your heart rate up) and muscle-strengthening activities, which may include lifting weights or using elastic bands.
Depression and anxiety are common among people with heart disease or who’ve had a heart attack or heart surgery. Many of these programs also offer ways to lower stress.
Your exercise program will take place at the rehab center. Your rehab team will work with you to choose the best exercises for you, and help you decide how often you need to do them.
Examples of aerobic exercises:
Generally 3-5 days per week, 30-45 minutes per session
Examples of strengthening activities (resistance training):
Generally two or three days per week; each activity is usually done in sets. For example, bicep curls you might do three sets of 10.
Remember that to participate, you need a referral. Make sure to ask your doctor if you are eligible, and encourage anyone else you know who has a heart condition to do the same.
Who’s on your team?
Most often, the cardiac rehab team will include:
7 Tips to Get the Most from Cardiac Rehab
Talking to your care team
Ask your care team about cardiac rehab, whether you might benefit and how it fits with your overall treatment plan. Below are some questions that may help:
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute