Cardiac rehab, or cardiac rehabilitation as it is more formally called, is for those who have had a heart attack, angioplasty, bypass, valve replacement, transplant, or other cardiac surgical procedure. Its purpose is to aid in your recovery process and to help you make the lifestyle changes you need for your future health. A team of physicians, nurses, exercise physiologists, and nutritionists will lead you through a program designed to fit your needs.
The potential benefits of such a program include an improvement in heart function and a reduced risk of dying or developing complications from heart disease.
Unfortunately not everyone has the opportunity to attend cardiac rehab. And even more unfortunately, some who have the opportunity choose not to participate.
As with recovery, there are four phases of cardiac rehabilitation.
The first phase begins right after a cardiac event while you are still in the hospital. It includes very light supervised exercise such as walking the halls. Hospital staff may provide you with information about diet, medication instruction, sexual activity, exercise, and getting back to normal life once you go home.
The second phase is the early days after you go home. This phase usually involves gradually increasing your activity and gentle exercise. I walked on the treadmill (with my doctor's okay) during this phase as I was very motivated to get on with my recovery.
The third phase is when you start attending a formal cardiac rehabilitation program. You may need your doctor's referral. Start of the program will vary on the services offered in your location and on your condition but it could be anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks after your discharge from the hospital. Most programs meet for one hour three or more times per week for twelve weeks - in some cases longer.
Cardiac rehab is designed to help you return to normal active life and "put you, not your heart condition, in charge of your life." The program will likely offer an exercise program with monitoring of heart rhythm, rate, and blood pressure before, during, and after workouts. Exercise has consistently been shown to improve cardiovascular health. Although just about everyone can benefit from exercise after discharge, the intensity and duration of exercise will be tailored to the severity of your heart disease. Some providers will require you to have a cardiac stress test before you start the program. You may also be requested to keep records of your exercise routines outside of rehab.
Education is a a big part of cardiac rehab and is generally accomplished through individual and/or group instruction. Educational topics may include:
Many programs will welcome your spouse or other family members to attend the education sessions with you.
The fourth phase is the beginning of the rest of your life. It really is up to you. This is where you get back to work (if appropriate), and carry on with your lifestyle changes and exercise program. Your goal is to LIVE with your heart disease and to prevent its progression.
When you complete your formal program and you are set loose you may experience mixed feelings. I was very glad to have reached the milestone but I felt quite nervous about being "on my own." My rehab team had provided me with so much support and helped me rebuild my confidence. Now I had to do it on my own.
This is where Smart Heart Living comes in. You're not alone. By making this an interactive community we all benefit. Share your stories with us so others living with heart disease can benefit. Send us your questions. Send us your successes. Think of it this way, the job is only partly done when a cardiac surgery or intervention is satisfactorily completed. The rest is up to you. Keep working on improving your lifestyle (it's a never ending process!).