If you’ve recently suffered a heart attack, or are experiencing chronic or acute heart disease, you may be referred for cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehabilitation is a customized program that includes exercise and education, designed to help patients recover from cardiac disease, reduce and manage the symptoms, and improve their quality of life. In this article, we’ll look at how cardiac rehab can help you heal.
What Does Cardiac Rehab Involve?
Depending on your heart condition, cardiac rehab may begin while you’re still in the hospital, or you may start it as an outpatient. Before starting a cardiac rehab program, you will be carefully assessed to determine the current state of your heart and overall health, as well as any other conditions that might affect your recovery, your personal goals and needs, and your current level of physical fitness. Your doctor and treatment team will then put together an individualized rehabilitation program to help you start your journey toward better health.
The first phases of cardiac rehab usually last around 3 months. You will work with a team of rehab professionals, which may include cardiologists, a specialist nursing staff, physical therapists, nutritionists, and mental health specialists. Cardiac rehabilitation comprises three key components:
The goal of the exercise portion of your cardiac rehab program is to improve your physical well-being as safely as possible. You will be guided through a series of exercises, progressing in difficulty over time as your fitness improves. The aim is to show you how to build exercise into your daily routine, without putting too much pressure on your heart.
Your exercise program will likely include both aerobic exercise and resistance training. According to the American College of Cardiology, depending on your starting fitness level, you may begin simply with sitting up and getting out of bed, progressing carefully to walking, climbing stairs, or cycling on a stationary bike.
Resistance training might include activities such as lifting yourself up out of a chair, which can lead up to using hand weights or resistance bands to improve your overall strength and muscle tone. Over time, you will be encouraged to monitor your own heart rate while you exercise, and develop your confidence in exercising on your own.
Patient education is a critical part of cardiac rehab. During the program, in addition to guidance on exercising safely, you’ll learn:
- How to manage your diet to improve your heart health
- How to make the necessary lifestyle changes for a healthy lifestyle, such as quitting smoking
- More about your heart condition, including how it affects your health and how to manage your symptoms
- How to manage your medications
The goal of the educational component is to enable you to feel confident in taking care of yourself once you’ve finished your rehab program. You should leave with a clear understanding of how to live a heart-healthy lifestyle, and what you need to do to gain a better quality of life.
3. Stress Management
The goal of this part of your rehab program is to help you manage your stress better. Heart disease, especially if you’ve experienced an acute event like a heart attack, can be highly traumatic.
In addition, stress and anxiety are known to contribute to many heart conditions, and unchecked anxiety could make your symptoms worse. As a result, you may benefit from working with a therapist or mental health professional during the course of your rehabilitation.
You may learn breathing techniques, meditation, or new ways of thinking that can help you feel less anxious or stressed in the future. You might also receive guidance on lifestyle changes you could make to create a less stressful, healthier future for yourself.
How Does Cardiac Rehab Help You Heal?
Cardiac rehab can be challenging - after all, when you’re not feeling well, it can be hard to take on new challenges and learn new skills. However, it can have a huge impact on your overall well-being in the future. A cardiac rehabilitation program has the potential to heal:
1. Your heart
Cardiac rehab has been proven to “lower the likelihood of future heart problems or related death,” states the American College of Cardiologists. The increased fitness you’ll gain can improve your heart strength, while the reduction in body fat will mean you’re putting less pressure on your heart.
2. Your body
Completing a cardiac rehab program can have a major impact on your overall fitness. You should find that you are able to conduct your daily activities, such as walking, doing chores or climbing stairs, with less difficulty. You may lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight. You might find that your aerobic fitness increases, and that you feel more energetic and positive than you did before.
3. Your mood
There’s no question that living with a heart condition is tough - cardiac rehab can help you reduce anxiety, feel better and enjoy a higher quality of life than you were living before.
Meeting fellow heart patients can also be a very positive experience - for many people, finding a community of others who understand exactly what you’re going through can be a very healing part of the cardiac rehab process. In the words of the Mayo Clinic, “Cardiac rehabilitation can guide you through fear and anxiety as you return to an active lifestyle with more motivation and energy to do the things you enjoy.”
4. Your lifestyle
The training and exercise you learn during cardiac rehab can help you make the healthy choices and changes you need to live a longer, happier life. In the words of Dr. Maganti of Northwestern University’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program, “Cardiac rehab helps you make heart-healthy changes in your daily life and the rehab team gives guidance and encouragement to help you stay on course.”
Life After Cardiac Rehab
To continue the benefits you gain during rehab, you’ll need to maintain the same skills and habits you’ve gained after you finish the program. You may wish to formally continue rehab with a Phase 3 Cardiac Rehabilitation program, or you may decide to join a fitness center or exercise at home. You’ll need to keep up your new dietary habits, stress reduction behaviors and lifestyle changes you’ve formed during the program to get the full benefits of long-term cardiac healing. You may also need to remain under medical supervision.
If you’re able to take advantage of the exercise training and other education you receive during cardiac rehab, you’ll see the benefits and see for yourself that cardiac rehabilitation has been consistently proven to help patients heal. If you’d like to learn more about cardiac care at Rehab Select, please visit our website or contact us.