Cardiac rehab is a program designed specifically for you and your medical needs. It includes exercise, lifestyle changes, education, and emotional support. It can help improve your health and enable you to live a more active life. Cardiac rehab can also help you return to work safely and in a timely manner.
You may start a cardiac rehab program while you are still in the hospital after having treatment for a heart attack or other heart problem, soon after leaving the hospital, or at any other time to help prevent future heart problems, improve the quality of your life, and make you healthier. Your doctor will give you an exercise prescription that gives you and your cardiac rehab team guidelines for the frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise. The prescription will be based on your medical condition and your fitness level.
How fast you recover depends on your age, your health, and whether you have other health conditions that may slow your recovery. A younger person without other health problems may improve more quickly than an older person who is in poor health. Depending on your condition and how you respond to rehab, you may stay in a certain phase or move back and forth among the various phases. There is no set length of time that you must stay in a specific phase.
Cardiac rehab has four phases. Your doctor will determine which phase is best for you to start your program.
Inpatient program: Phase I
- Determining how well you can care for yourself (bathing, dressing, and grooming) after your heart attack or surgery.
- Measuring your ability to exercise. Your doctor will probably want you to have an exercise test before you begin your cardiac rehab exercise program. This test will show what types of exercise are safe for you and how soon you can begin to exercise.
- Identifying which daily activities, such as lifting, you can safely do.
- Providing patient and family education about the lifestyle changes you need to make, such as eating healthy foods and quitting smoking. Changes in your diet may be difficult to make. But even small changes can help improve cholesterol levels and improve your health. For ideas that can help you get started, see:
- Doing light exercise, such as walking short distances several times a day and possibly beginning a weight-training program.
Outpatient programs: Phase II, Phase III, and Phase IV
The remaining three phases of your cardiac rehab take place outside the hospital. At first, your rehab team will keep a close watch on how exercise affects your heart and how you are progressing, before gradually releasing you from supervision to continue cardiac rehab on your own. The healthier lifestyle you've learned-including eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking-can then become a way of life for you.
- Close monitoring and supervision during the early part of your exercise program.
- Preparing you to return to work and the recreational activities you enjoyed before your heart problems. Your work or leisure activities may need to be modified.
- Providing education and counseling for you and your family to help you keep a lifestyle of healthy habits that will lower your risk of having further heart problems.
- Taking care of your emotional health. Regaining your emotional well-being and getting help for depression are important parts of cardiac rehab.
- Making a plan to help you start a safe home exercise program and participate in other unsupervised activities. For tips on walking as exercise, see: