If you undergo heart surgery or suffer a cardiac event, your cardiologist will probably recommend you attend a cardiac rehabilitation program as part of your recovery process — and you definitely should sign up.
Cardiac rehab is just as important as medicines such as beta blockers or statins to reduce death rates after a heart attack. Surprisingly, though, less than 13 percent of those who are eligible to participate in a cardiac rehab do so.
What is cardiac rehab? It’s a program that provides education and counseling services to heart patients that is tailored to their individual needs and abilities. A program usually is 12 weeks long. During that time, patients typically exercise three days each week for about an hour each day, in addition to meeting with a nutritionist.
At the end of the program, these patients can have increased physical fitness and reduced cardiac symptoms. Most important, cardiac rehab can reduce the risk of future heart problems, including heart attack.
Most cardiac rehab is covered by insurance after a patient has had a heart event or surgery.
More than just an exercise program
Cardiac rehab is one of the best things that heart patients can do to improve their odds of survival as well as their quality of life, says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. The program may include:
- A medical evaluation to pinpoint your needs and limitations and to formulate a rehabilitation plan
- A monitored physical activity program to meet your needs and capacity.
- Counseling to help you understand your condition and education on how to manage it.
“We actually put you on a treadmill. Using that information, we design an individualized exercise program to meet your individual needs,” Dr. Cho says. “Then you exercise in a hospital with an exercise physiologist, nurses and doctors. Gradually, you build up your exercise capacity.”
Multiple studies have shown that people who do cardiac rehab live longer, have fewer heart attacks, and need repeat hospitalization less frequently, Dr. Cho says.
Older adults, especially women, tend to get the most benefit from cardiac rehab, Dr. Cho says.
Making the long-term investment
Dr. Cho urges those who think cardiac rehab isn’t worth their time to give it a try, because it’s a life-saving and life-altering therapy.
“It’s really crucial because it’s not just exercising, it’s about learning how to eat, learning to stop smoking, controlling your stress factors. It’s really a crucial part of having a healthy life after your heart event,” Dr. Cho says.
Dr. Cho says it’s also important to make regular physical activity a life-long habit by exercising three to five times a week after cardiac rehab is complete.
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