If you recently had a heart attack, angioplasty, bypass surgery or other heart conditions, your healthcare provider will want you to become active again very soon. Activity is healthy for your heart in the long term; however, it is very important to begin this process slowly as your heart recovers. To achieve this, your healthcare provider may prescribe a cardiac rehabilitation program, also called cardiac rehab.

A cardiac rehab program can help you become more active in a safe and structured setting. More than 1 million people in the United States would benefit from cardiac rehabilitation. Programs exist in nearly all cities and may be connected with a hospital, an outpatient clinic, a gym, such as the YMCA or a fitness center. Medicare and health insurance plans often pay for cardiac rehab.

The goal of cardiac rehab is to help you get stronger and improve your health by slowly building up your activity level. The programs are meant to be individualized, safe, beneficial and fun. Ideal programs also teach you how to decrease risk factors to prevent further heart trouble.

Cardiac Rehabilitation Team

Cardiac rehab uses a team of experts to help you on your road to recovery. The team may include a variety of healthcare providers such as doctors, nurses, exercise specialists, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians and psychologists. Your team will evaluate your heart disease and become familiar with the care you have had so far. Then they will create a tailored program to meet your needs.

Your cardiac rehab team will assess your physical condition and measure your risk factors for heart disease. An electrocardiogram, or EKG, may be performed at rest and during exercise. Your blood pressure and heart rate will be watched closely. Your team will calculate your target heart rate and prescribe activities for you to reach this target rate safely during supervised exercise. Your team will teach you how to count your heart rate before, during and after exercise.

Exercise may include low intensity activities such as walking, biking or swimming. In some programs, you may exercise in a group who are also recovering from heart disease. Remember that everyone is at a different level. Do not be worried if others in the group seem to be doing much better than you are. Your team will help you to know if your activity level is right for you.

Over time, you will increase the amount and intensity of exercise you perform. Programs generally meet three times a week. Your team may suggest exercises you can do at home between sessions. Programs usually last from two to twelve weeks, depending on your needs.

Once you graduate from your cardiac rehab program, your team will recommend an ongoing program that you can follow on your own for the rest of your life. In addition to exercise, cardiac rehab also includes other lifestyle changes. Your team will teach you how to eat a healthy diet, and if needed, how to lose weight, manage high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you smoke, they will provide you with tips to help you quit. You may also be given information on how to cope with your condition, manage stress and find social support. If these lifestyle changes are hard for you, your team may suggest ways to help you adjust to your new lifestyle. While it isn’t easy, making these changes can help you feel better and improve your quality of life.

Sexual activity is an important part of life and is a concern for many. Some are afraid to resume sexual activity. Others with heart conditions may experience chest pain during sex. A number of heart medications may decrease sex drive or sexual function.

Erectile dysfunction medicines may be harmful for some heart problems. These are valid and normal concerns. Be assured that many people with heart conditions engage in sexual activity safely. Sexual activity is about equal to walking two to four miles an hour on a level surface or climbing one to two flights of stairs. Ask your healthcare provider when it is safe for you to begin or resume sexual activity.

What To Do

  • Check to see if your health insurance plan will pay for cardiac rehabilitation. If it is not covered, ask your healthcare provider about affordable community-based or home-based programs.
  • Remember that cardiac rehab takes time. If you become frustrated with your progress, let your team know how you feel.
  • Start slowly and gradually build your activity.
  • Wear loose comfortable clothes and flat rubber soled shoes during exercise.
  • Let your cardiac rehab professional know if you experience chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, nausea or fatigue during exercise.
  • Continue physical activity even after your cardiac rehab program is over.
  • To help keep motivated, ask family or friends to join you.
  • Exercise at the same time every day so it becomes a routine.
  • Keep track of your exercise in a logbook.

What Not To Do

  • Do not get discouraged if you stop your exercise plan for a while. Gradually start again and exercise slowly until you achieve your previous level of activity.
  • Avoid activities that require you to hold your breath, bear down or perform sudden bursts of energy.
  • Do not take erectile dysfunction medications if you are taking any medicines that contain nitroglycerin or other nitrates.

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

  • Call if you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness or lightheadedness during exercise.
  • Call if you have heart related symptoms, including angina, during or after sex.

What We Have Learned

The goal of cardiac rehab is to help you get stronger and improve your health by slowly building up your activity level.
True or False
The answer is True

You should continue physical activity even after your cardiac rehab program is over.
True or False
The answer is True

If you have heart related symptoms, including angina, during or after sex you should call your healthcare provider.
True or False
The answer is True

The contents of wired.MD are for informational purposes only. Nothing contained in wired.MD is intended to substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have health care related concerns or questions, please seek the advice of your physican or other qualified healthcare providers. You should never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen on wired.MD.

Special Thanks to Medtronic for their help in the making of this production.

Copyright 2007 wired.MD, Inc. All Rights Reserved