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Why Exercise Is Important in Cardiac Rehab

Everyone can benefit from exercise. But if you are recovering from a heart attack or have other heart disease, the benefits of exercise will be even greater than for most people. Cardiac rehab programs are designed to restore and maintain your physical function. Whether your goal is to return to work as soon as possible, live a more active lifestyle, or achieve a level of independence to increase the quality of your life, exercise must be a regular part of your routine.

To achieve your goal, you should involve yourself in activities that include aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises. During recovery and then rehabilitation, your exercise program should be specifically designed for you. It should safely progress from a supervised program monitored by an exercise physiologist or other qualified professional to an independent, self-managed program.

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Benefits of aerobic exercise for your heart

Your heart is a muscle with fibers that allow it to contract and pump blood. Like other muscles in your body, your heart will respond to exercise. When a muscle is used during exercise, the fibers inside it become stronger and more efficient. Increasing your heart rate during aerobic exercise not only strengthens the heart itself but also helps more blood circulate through your body. Blood contains oxygen and nutrients that increase the health and efficiency of many of your body's important systems.

After a heart attack, your heart is recovering from direct injury from the event itself and possibly indirect injury due to surgery. A safe and progressive exercise program will help your heart recover by helping to restore its muscle strength and blood flow.

Other benefits of aerobic exercise

There are many other physical and mental benefits of aerobic exercise for cardiac rehab.

  • Physical benefits:
    • Increases aerobic ability (the ability of your body to use oxygen)
    • Increases lung volume and the lungs' ability to take in oxygen
    • Reduces the demands on your heart both at rest and during exercise
    • Lowers blood pressure
    • Can reduce your proportion of body fat
  • Mental benefits:
    • Reduces anxiety
    • Helps improve mild to moderate depression; improves mood, self-esteem, and self-concept

What about functional benefits?

Exercise also has specific benefits for your body's functions, including increased:

  • Size and strength of your muscles.
  • Efficiency of your muscles to use nutrients and oxygen.
  • Ability of your lungs to provide oxygen to your bloodstream.
  • Ability of your body to transport oxygen to the working muscles and organs.
  • Strength and efficiency of the heart (increases the amount of blood pumped per beat).

Benefits of strength training

Increased strength can help improve your risk factors for heart disease and enhance your independence. Strength training has many benefits for you during your recovery and rehabilitation.

  • When you have more muscle, your body burns energy faster. This faster energy burn can help you manage your weight.
  • Strength training can decrease the demands on your heart when you do daily activities such as lifting.
  • Strength training can help improve your stability and reduce your chance of falling.
  • Strength training can help increase your bone mineral density and make your bones stronger, especially if you are older.
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Richard D. Zorowitz, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Last Revised October 5, 2010

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 05, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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