Cardiac rehabilitation is a customized, medically supervised program designed to improve the health and well-being of people who have experienced heart problems. It can help you recover after a heart attack, prevent hospital stays and heart problems in the future, deal with risk factors that can cause coronary heart disease, start living a healthier lifestyle, and improve your quality of life. Ultimately, cardiac rehabilitation can increase your chances of survival and reduce your risk of dying from heart problems.
Cardiac rehabilitation can start while you are still in the hospital and continue with monitored outpatient visits until you can safely follow home-based maintenance programs. The first stages of cardiac rehabilitation typically last about three to six months1 and begin with a review of your medical history and a physical examination to evaluate your overall health. Tests such as an electrocardiogram also may be done to check your heart, as well as blood tests to measure cholesterol and sugar levels.
- A comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program involves a team of professionals that may include cardiologists, nurse educators, dietitians, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. It has four main components:
- A medical evaluation is conducted when the program starts to assess your physical abilities, medical limitations and other conditions. Your progress will be tracked throughout rehabilitation to customize the program to meet your individual needs and ensure your safety.
- Physical activities such as walking or biking help improve cardiovascular fitness, while resistance training with weights is used to stretch and condition muscles. Don’t worry if you haven’t been active before. Exercises are introduced at a comfortable pace and you will be taught proper form and techniques.
- Lifestyle education involves following a healthy eating plan by learning how to plan meals that meet your caloric needs. Your cardiac rehabilitation team also works with you to control risk factors for heart problems, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.
- Counseling is available to help you reduce stress by managing situations that could cause anxiety or depression.
Cardiac rehabilitation is recommended by both the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology. Even after your cardiac rehabilitation program ends, you will need to continue to follow the diet and exercise routine you have established to maintain the heart-healthy benefits. Making this long-term commitment will help you return to a normal schedule and rebuild your life. For more information about cardiac rehabilitation, talk with your doctor or visit the American College of Cardiology website at www.cardiosmart.org.