Why Is Cardiac Rehabilitation So Important?

Cardiac rehabilitation is an outpatient program designed to help patients recover from heart surgeries or injuries and treat many forms of heart disease. It involves a combination of physical therapy, patient education, and emotional support, and experts believe that it is vital to promoting patient recovery.

Who Can Benefit From Cardiac Rehab?

Any patient who is struggling with heart failure, coronary artery disease, or peripheral artery disease can benefit from cardiac rehab. The combination of physical therapy, dietary counseling, and emotional support for stress reduction can reduce patients’ risks of heart attack and stroke. Patients who have undergone angioplasty, heart surgery, or lung surgery are also good candidates for cardiac rehabilitation.

Patients usually need a recommendation from their primary care physicians or cardiologists to enroll in cardiac rehabilitation. Doctors usually refer patients to cardiac rehab if they have a history of:

What Does Cardiac Rehabilitation Involve?

Patients undergoing cardiac rehabilitation will work with a team of experts, often including a heart specialist, a nutritionist, and a counselor in addition to the patient’s primary care physician. These experts conduct assessments and evaluate the patient’s current health and medical history to develop a personalized rehabilitation plan that will help to promote heart health.

Each patient’s rehabilitation plan will be a little different. However, there are three general categories of counseling and training that, when combined, describe the bulk of the activities that will take place.

1. Physical Therapy

Exercise is good for everyone, including patients who have suffered heart attacks or struggle with heart failure. It gets the heart pumping, helping to strengthen this vital muscle, and keeps the cardiovascular system functioning. Not all forms of exercise are equally beneficial to patients with heart disease, though, which is why it’s so important to consult a cardiac rehabilitation specialist for exercise counseling and physical therapy.

For most patients, the physical therapy portion of cardiac rehabilitation includes brief warmups, stretching, and 30 to 40 minutes of aerobics. These exercises can be performed on treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bicycles, or even rowing machines. The intensity of aerobic exercise will vary based on the patient’s current physical health status and goals. Treatment plans sometimes involve resistance training, as well.

2. Patient Education

Lifestyle plays a huge role in heart health. Patient education is designed to teach cardiac rehab participants and their families on how to make heart-healthy eating choices and manage other risk factors. Depending on the patient’s current lifestyle, it could include a combination of nutritional counseling, help with smoking cessation or quitting alcohol or other drugs, and general education about cardiovascular health.

All patients receive general education about their heart conditions and how to manage symptoms. Most patient education plans also involve a consultation with a nutritionist, as diet plays a heavy role in determining heart health and outcomes for patients with cardiovascular problems. Nutritional counseling could involve guidance on what dietary changes to make, how to read labels at the store and even healthy cooking methods. 

3. Stress Counseling and Emotional Support

Chronic stress and high blood pressure are both risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. Patients can benefit from counseling that focuses on stress management. That could include learning how to manage time, encouraging realistic goal setting, and learning relaxation techniques in addition to traditional counseling.

Stress management techniques can include meditation, breathing exercises, positive self-talk, yoga, or spending time in nature. Since cardiac patients often struggle with other emotional health problems such as depression, counseling may also focus on more traditional approaches to managing mental health such as talk therapy.

Risks Associated With Cardiac Rehab

Since cardiac rehabilitation is performed under the supervision of specialized physicians, there are few risks associated with rehab. In rare cases, patients may incur muscle or bone injuries. Not all patients are good candidates for cardiac rehabilitation, and some may not be able to complete the full program if, for example, they are at high risk of life-threatening heart arrhythmias or other problems.

What to Expect

The first step of cardiac rehabilitation is to perform a comprehensive medical evaluation. This exam gives the patient’s care team a better idea of his or her current physical abilities and limitations. The examining physician will also look for risk factors that could complicate treatment, especially during exercise.

Most patients can expect to work with their cardiac rehabilitation teams for at least three months. During this time, physicians will monitor progress and make changes to the personalized program as needed to maximize benefits and reduce risks.

As a patient’s cardiac rehab program progresses, he or she can increase physical strength, adopt healthier behaviors, cut out bad habits, manage weight, and become more adept at managing stress. These health and lifestyle changes must be ongoing if they are to be effective. Patients need to continue to implement the changes they’ve made with the help of their rehabilitation teams after the end of their programs.

Cardiac rehabilitation helps patients who are struggling with acute or chronic heart problems rebuild their lives and find ways to manage their conditions. Eventually, most patients will be able to return to normal routines that include all their favorite daily activities, with a few minor alterations such as sticking to a heart-healthy diet or exercising every day.

Factors That Determine Success

Like most forms of rehabilitation, the success or failure of a cardiac rehab program rests primarily on the patient. Those who follow their therapists’ and counselors’ recommendations typically do well and find ways to return to having a normal, satisfying life. Conversely, patients who fail to follow the recommendations or do not continue their diet and exercise programs after they are finished with formal rehab will see little, if any, long-term benefit. Success depends on the patient’s determination.

Get Started Today

The first step toward regaining strength and feeling better is to request a referral or contact a cardiac rehabilitation facility. Patients can trust Carolina Cardiology Associates with all their cardiac rehab needs. Learn more about our physicians and treatment options online or call to schedule a consultation today.

The experienced physicians at Carolina Cardiology Associates are committed to the health of every patient who walks through our doors. We understand the challenges of cardiovascular disease and will work with you to provide treatment, education, and a plan for the future to help you live your healthiest life.