Cardiac rehabilitation is a supervised program of exercise and education for cardiovascular patients. Exercise is done under the direct guidance of a physician, specialized nurses and exercise physiologists. The goal is to help you return to the best possible physical condition so you feel stronger, have more energy and decrease your risk for future cardiovascular problems.
Cardiac rehabilitation consists of three phases. When and where you enter the program depends on your condition. Phases include:
- Phase I cardiac rehabilitation helps you maintain or return to pre-hospital activity levels.
- Phase II cardiac rehabilitation begins after your hospital stay and lasts from 4 to 12 weeks. You are assisted in using a variety of exercise equipment. Your heart rate and heart rhythm are monitored during the entire exercise session.
- Phase III cardiac rehabilitation, or advanced cardiac fitness, allows you to increase your exercise level. Exercise is still supervised, but only your blood pressure and pulse are checked at the start and end of each session.
Outpatient sessions include:
- Tailored exercise programs
- Classes on cardiac topics
- Diet assessment and referrals
- Stress reduction classes
- Guided weight training (as suggested)
- Smoking cessation programs
Benefits of cardiac rehabilitation
The American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation has studied the long-term benefits of cardiac rehabilitation. These demonstrated benefits include:
- A 20-30 percent reduction in deaths from all causes
- Decreased mortality up to five years after participating in a rehab program
- Return to work and performing activities of daily living
- Reduced symptoms of angina, difficulty breathing, fatigue and heart attack
- Increased exercise performance and leisure activities
- Improved quality of life and emotional health, including a decrease in anxiety and depression
- Reduced hospitalization and improved cholesterol
Selecting a cardiac rehabilitation program
When choosing the cardiac rehabilitation program that is best for you, ask the following questions:
- Where are classes held?
- What are the class times? How long are the classes? Does this fit into my schedule?
- Who will work with me? Registered nurses? Exercise physiologists? Physicians on site? Dietitians?
- How many weeks is each phase?
- How often and what type of progress reports are sent to my physician?
Enrolling in a cardiac rehabilitation program
Talk to your physician to see if cardiac rehabilitation is right for you. Often, an exercise stress test is needed before you can begin rehabilitation. Be sure to contact your insurance company and/or Medicare to see what portion of the cost will be covered.