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Not sure if cardiac rehabilitation is for you? Here’s how to know if it is.

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When you think of cardiac rehabilitation, you may think it’s just something people need to do immediately after a major heart attack. But the fact is that anyone who has a heart problem requiring medical care or surgery—including moderate to severe heart disease, heart failure, heart surgery or a heart attack—can benefit from cardiac rehab.

Not sure exactly what cardiac rehab is, when you should go or what the benefits are? Read on for answers to common questions.

What is cardiac rehab?

Cardiac rehabilitation is a program that helps you develop healthy habits that are good for your heart in a supervised environment. Programs are tailored to the individual needs of each patient and are aimed at reducing cardiovascular risk factors. You’ll learn how to safely increase the amount of physical activity you do. You’ll also receive guidance on other aspects of heart-healthy living, including how to eat healthy, ways to relieve stress, why it’s important to take medication as prescribed and how to improve mental health. If you smoke, you can get help quitting.

Is cardiac rehab only for people who had a heart attack?

No, anyone who has a heart problem can benefit from a cardiac rehab program. If you have heart disease that’s being managed by a doctor or have recently had heart surgery or a heart attack, you may benefit from joining a cardiac rehab program. Even if you think you won’t be able to do the physical activity, joining a cardiac rehab program can help. Physical therapists and exercise specialists are trained to help people with physical limitations improve strength and mobility.

What are the benefits of cardiac rehab?

Benefits from cardiac rehab can help in both the short and long term. Research shows that cardiac rehab may decrease the chance of dying by about 35% in the 5 years following a heart attack or bypass surgery.

Benefits include:

      • Strengthening your heart and relieving symptoms, such as chest pain.
      • Making it easier to adopt and stick with healthier habits, such as exercising, eating healthy, reducing stress and quitting smoking.
      • Helping you manage cardiac risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
      • Increasing energy and strength to make it easier to carry out every day activities.
      • Improving your mood.
      • Making you more likely to take prescribed medication, which may lower the risk of future heart problems.

What if I think I can benefit from cardiac rehab but my doctor hasn’t recommended it?

If you think cardiac rehab is right for you, talk to your doctor and advocate for your health. Primary care physicians are less likely to refer patients for cardiac rehab than cardiologists or cardiothoracic surgeons. Research also shows you’re less likely to be referred if you are a woman or an older adult, do not speak English or live in an area where cardiac rehab is not locally available.

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Date Last Reviewed: December 14, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

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