Ask the Doctors

Cardiac rehab after heart attack

Question:

I recently had a heart attack. My doctor has recommended cardiac rehab. What does that involve?

Answer:

Cardiac rehabilitation is a structured program that includes:

  • exercise
  • education aimed at reducing risks such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a less-than-healthy diet
  • psychological and social support

Medicare and many other insurance plans cover a cardiac rehab program if you've had a heart attack, angina, angioplasty or stents, open-heart surgery (bypass or valve surgery, for example), or a heart transplant.

The medical professionals who make up a cardiac rehab team include a physiologist or trainer, a nurse, a nutritionist, and a psychologist or social worker. The team assesses each person's individual risk factors for heart and blood vessel disease. The team:

  • teaches—and supports—healthy lifestyle changes, including weight control, establishing a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking, and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • develops a personalized exercise plan for each person, then helps get that plan started and shows how to integrate exercise into daily routines
  • monitors and helps control blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar
  • assesses psychological problems, such as depression, related to heart disease and provides counseling
  • helps people learn from and aid others with similar heart issues
  • improves people's communication with their doctors and other health care providers

Cardiac rehab is an opportunity to reinforce people's understanding of how they can improve their health. It builds confidence in physical activity and reduces anxiety.

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