Cardiac Rehabilitation: Following an Exercise Program

Man exercising on exercise bike while physical therapist takes his blood pressure.A big part of a cardiac rehab program is exercise. Regular exercise will make your heart and coronary arteries healthier. It helps increase strength, lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and control your weight. Cardiac rehab lowers the risk for future hospital stays and worsening heart problems.

A supervised program

Your cardiac rehab exercise program may start right in the hospital. Your healthcare provider and a cardiac rehab technician will explain how it works. At first, the goal is to regain basic strength. You will start with light exercise, such as walking down the hospital hall. After you leave the hospital, you may continue supervised exercise at a medical center or other facility. There, exercises will be prescribed to help you build strength, flexibility, and endurance. This program will be designed to help you function independently and build your heart's strength.

Continuing at home

After you finish your supervised program, don't give up exercising. Keep exercising at the medical center, at home, or at a fitness center. By sticking with a program of exercise, you’ll lower your risk for future heart attack, (acute myocardial infarction, or AMI) and stroke. And you’ll feel and look better, too. To make exercise more fun, invite your family and friends to join you. Being active has benefits for everyone.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise helps your heart and other muscles better use oxygen. Many cardiac rehab programs use walking on a treadmill as a basic form of aerobic exercise. Some programs also use equipment, such as stationary bikes, recumbent cross-trainers that are low impact on joints, arm cranks, and light weights. You will be shown how to use them to get the most benefit. In most programs, your heart rate and blood pressure will be monitored while you exercise.

Signs of overexertion

Stop exercising and call your provider if you feel any of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Burning, tightness, heaviness, or pressure in your chest

  • Unusual aching in your arm, shoulders, neck, jaw, or back

  • Trouble catching your breath

  • Racing or skipping heart

  • Extreme fatigue (especially after exercise)

  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or nausea

The signs of over-exertion can happen at any point in your recovery, whether you are at a cardiac rehab center or have continued your exercise program at home. The trained professionals in the cardiac rehab center will have you stop exercising if you have a dangerous drop or rise in your heart rate or blood pressure, low oxygen levels, or if you report symptoms to the cardiac rehab staff. Your healthcare provider will usually get a progress update from the cardiac rehab center and this often includes a log of your vital signs and notes about each visit.

Physical stress after a heart attack or the side effects from heart medicines can have a negative effect on sexual activity. Cardiac rehab programs can help with both the physical and emotional aspects of heart disease that may affect your sexual health. Talk to your doctor about the risks of resuming sexual activity including when it will be safe for you to have sex again. Generally, it's safe to have sex after a heart attack or heart surgery once you can walk around a city block or up a flight of stairs without symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, or severe fatigue.

Make sure you take your medicines as they are prescribed before your cardiac rehab appointment. If you are prescribed oxygen, be sure to use it especially when you are exercising. Don't take the oxygen off because you feel like the tubing is getting in the way or the tanks are hard to walk around with, this could really stress your heart and lungs.

Remember to update your healthcare provider about your overall progress when you see him or her in your follow up appointments.