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Cardiac rehabilitation - Description and benefits

Cardiac rehab benefits

The benefits of a cardiac rehabilitation program include:

  • increasing your activity level, improving your cardiovascular fitness, and increasing your heart's functional capacity
  • reducing your risk factors
  • giving you more control over your own health
  • providing education about reducing risk factors and changing your lifestyle.

If you have cardiovascular disease or a cardiac event (like a heart attack), your first exercise may be through a medically supervised program called cardiac rehabilitation.

Cardiac rehabilitation involves structured exercise, education about your heart, information about how to manage your current condition, and a plan for helping to prevent more cardiac problems.

Cardiac therapists will guide you through rehabilitation and watch you closely.

Inpatient cardiac rehabilitation

This phase of your rehabilitation takes place while you are still in the hospital. Members of a special cardiac rehabilitation team will meet with you.

They may include an occupational therapist, registered nurses, an exercise physiologist, a respiratory care practitioner and a physical therapist.

Tips for exercise

  • Set realistic exercise goals. You can't go from having no exercise to walking 5 miles a day overnight. Start with small gains and slowly increase your goals.
  • Don't exercise if you are ill or have a fever. "Listen" to your body and respect its demands when it needs to rest or heal.
  • In addition to your regular exercise, try to sneak bits of other exercise into each day such as:
    • Park your car at the end of the parking lot and walk to the store.
    • Take the stairs now and then.
    • Walk to the mailbox instead of driving to the post office.

Your cardiac rehabilitation therapist will work closely with your doctor to prescribe a step-by-step program of activity and exercise. This will help prevent you from losing muscle mass while you're in the hospital.

This program is designed to monitor your heart's response to exercise and ensures you are safe and able to perform activities of daily living.

Outpatient cardiac rehabilitation

Your rehabilitation may continue on a regular schedule after you leave the hospital. These fully-monitored sessions will help you safely build up your tolerance for activity and improve the strength of your heart so you can return to your normal everyday tasks.

Educational programs and support groups will help you learn how to lower your risks and help yourself recover emotionally and physically.

Long-term maintenance cardiac rehabilitation

After you've completed your outpatient program, it is important to continue in other programs that promote cardiovascular and physical fitness, and support you as you help create a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Some hospitals have a medical fitness center for you to continue your exercise program under the supervision of staff trained to monitor people with heart problems.

Mixed feelings about exercise

You may have mixed feelings about being active. You might like to do more, but aren't sure how much you're capable of doing.

Your health care team will tailor an exercise program just for you. They will:

  • teach you how to measure and monitor your body's response to your activity level
  • teach you when to stop and rest, when to avoid activity altogether, and when to be active
  • help you gradually progress according to your abilities.

 

 

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts