Rehab After a Heart Attack

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 21, 2022
3 min read

After you have a heart attack, it's natural to worry that you might get another. But there's a great way to lower that risk. It's called cardiac rehab, a four-part program that's designed just for you.

The program helps you recover from your heart attack and gets you ready to go back to work. It builds up your strength and endurance, raises your confidence, and helps let you down gently from what may have been an emotional roller-coaster ride.

Your rehab may get underway even before you leave the hospital.

You'll begin slowly, right in your hospital room. At first you do simple activities. You might sit up in bed, walk, and climb stairs a little. You also get used to doing some self-care again, like brushing your teeth or shaving.

This early phase helps give you the tools and confidence you need to start on the road to recovery.

Once you're out of the hospital, your doctor, nurse, or case manager will refer you to a rehab program. It can happen in lots of different places:

  • Inpatient programs. For this kind of rehab, you stay overnight, perhaps for a week or two, in a separate wing of your hospital or a center such as a nursing home.
  • Outpatient programs. These happen in a clinic or in a building on your hospital campus. You'll live at home and go to sessions several times a week.
  • Virtual programs. This is rehab "internet" style. You fire up your computer and talk to your doctors and nurses on Skype. It's especially useful if you live in a rural area that's far from medical care, or if transportation is an issue for you.

Whichever type of program you use, a team of health pros will help you recover from your heart attack, get you stronger, and teach you the new skills you'll need for a healthy, fulfilling life. You'll be guided by doctors, nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists, occupational therapists, and mental health experts. Your agenda includes:

  • A medical exam. Your health team will take measurements, like cholesterol levels, body mass index (BMI), and blood pressure. With this information, they'll be able to tailor the program to your needs and track your progress.
  • An exercise program. A physical therapist will supervise a plan that builds up your strength and endurance.
  • Healthy eating. You'll work with a nutritionist to learn how heart-healthy foods can lower your risk for another heart attack. The right diet can help you become more active and energetic -- and make you feel better.
  • Coaching for work and recreation. You'll take steps to get ready for going back to your job as well as the fun activities you used to do. You may need to make some tweaks to your old routines, and your occupational therapist will show you how.
  • Help for your emotions. It's not unusual to have depression and anxiety after a heart attack, and that can make your recovery harder. Mental health professionals can treat you with medication or counseling.


Now that you've made your heart stronger and formed healthy new habits, it's time to take them out for a spin. Your team will help you make a plan to start a safe home exercise program and take part in other unsupervised activities.

Your formal rehab is over, but it's prepared you for success over the long haul. You can go out into the world with confidence. A British study shows that people who took part in cardiac rehab had better health 5 years after a heart attack.

The more rehab sessions you go to, the better off you'll be. People who took part in more than 36 sessions had a 31% lower risk of having another heart attack, compared to those who went to just one session.