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A guide to cardiac rehabilitation

Patients who join a cardiac rehab program are making a long-term commitment to their health.

People say that knowledge is power. That is surely true if you have heart disease.

To improve your health and quality of life, you'll probably have to learn new ways to cook, eat, exercise and live. Cardiac rehabilitation is an excellent place to find both the information and inspiration you need.

Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program that is meant to reduce the chance of future problems—a heart attack or return to the hospital, for example—and help you live life to its fullest.

Who can benefit from cardiac rehab?

Cardiac rehab helps men and women of all ages. Studies have documented that cardiac rehab programs can help heart patients who are older than 75, just as they help younger patients.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiac rehab can help people who have or have had:

  • A heart attack.
  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Heart failure.
  • Angina (chest pain caused by the heart not getting enough oxygen).
  • A heart procedure, such as a balloon angioplasty or a pacemaker implant.
  • Heart surgery, such as a bypass operation or valve replacement.

Cardiac rehab may take place at the hospital or in another location. The program may last a few weeks or even a few years, although three months is common.

Although there may be limits, Medicare and health plans often cover the services.

What to expect at rehab

The rehab team will evaluate your overall health, lifestyle, medical conditions and limitations. Then they'll tailor a program just for you.

In rehab you may:

  • Work with a nutritionist to set up a heart-healthy eating plan.
  • Learn how to exercise safely, possibly using a treadmill, bike, rowing machine, track or weight machines.
  • Learn how to control chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Learn ways to reduce stress.
  • Learn about your medications and how to take them.
  • Get tips for quitting smoking and losing weight.
  • Get counseling about returning to work and to activities you enjoy.

Rehab also is a place to find help for the emotional upheaval that is common after heart surgery or heart problems. Depression, anxiety and anger shouldn't be ignored. They can affect you physically and keep you from recovering.

Expert care and helpful support

Changing behaviors and habits is hard work. In rehab, you'll have a team of people whose experience and advice can help you achieve your goals.

You'll be closely monitored to make sure you're responding well.

Also, you'll meet others who've been through a similar life event. That camaraderie can help you stick with your program and make the transition back to an active life.

Finding out about rehab programs

To find out if you're a candidate for cardiac rehab and to get a referral to a program, talk to your healthcare provider.

Reviewed 8/8/2022

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