Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) is a program that helps you live better with heart disease. It is often prescribed to help you recover from a heart attack, heart surgery, or other procedures, or if you have heart failure.
These programs most often include both education and exercise. The goal of cardiac rehab is to:
- Improve your cardiovascular function
- Improve your overall health and quality of life
- Reduce symptoms
- Reduce your risk of future heart problems
Who Needs Rehab
Cardiac rehab can help anyone who has had a heart attack or other heart problem. You might consider cardiac rehab if you have had:
- Heart attack
- Coronary heart disease (CHD)
- Heart failure
- Angina (chest pain)
- Heart or heart valve surgery
- Heart transplant
- Procedures such as angioplasty and stenting
In some cases, your health care provider may refer you to rehab if you have had a heart attack or heart surgery. If your provider does not mention rehab, you can ask if it might help you.
Benefits of Cardiac Rehab
Cardiac rehab may help you:
- Improve your quality of life
- Lower your risk of having a heart attack or another heart attack
- Perform your daily tasks more easily
- Increase your activity level and improve your fitness
- Learn how to eat a heart-healthy diet
- Lose weight
- Quit smoking
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- Improve blood sugar control
- Reduce stress
- Lower your risk of dying from a heart condition
- Stay independent
What to Expect
You will work with a rehab team that may include many kinds of medical professionals including:
- Heart doctors
- Physical therapists
- Exercise specialists
- Occupational therapists
- Mental health specialists
Your rehab team will design a program that is safe for you. Before you start, the team will assess your overall health. A provider will do an exam and may ask you questions about your health and medical history. You may also have some tests to check your heart.
Most rehab programs last from 3 to 6 months. Your program may be longer or shorter depending on your condition.
Most rehab programs cover several different areas:
- Exercise. Regular exercise helps strengthen your heart and improve your overall health. During your sessions you may start with about a 5-minute warm up followed by about 20 minutes of aerobics. The goal is to get to about 70% to 80% of your maximum heart rate. You will then cool down for about 5 to 15 minutes. You may also may do some light weightlifting or use weight machines as part of your routine. At first, your team will monitor your heart while you are exercising. You will start slowly, and increase your physical activity over time. Your rehab team may also suggest you do other activities, such as walking or yard work, on days you are not at the program.
- Healthy eating. Your team will help you learn how to make healthy food choices. They can help you plan a diet to help manage health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.
- Education. Your rehab team will teach you other ways to stay healthy, such as quitting smoking. If you have a health condition, such as diabetes, CHD, or high blood pressure, your rehab team will teach you how to manage it.
- Support. Your rehab team will help support you in making these lifestyle changes. They can also help you cope with anxiety or depression.
Choosing a Program
If you are in the hospital, your rehab program may start while you are there. Once you go home, you will likely go to a rehab center in your area. It might be in:
- The hospital
- A skilled nursing faculty
- Another location
Your provider may refer you to a rehab center, or you might need to choose one yourself. When choosing a rehab center, keep a few things in mind:
- Is the center close to your home?
- Is the program at a time that is good for you?
- Can you get to the center easily?
- Does the program have the services you need?
- Is the program covered by your insurance?
If you cannot get to a rehab center, you may have a form of rehab you do in your home.
Cardiac rehab; Heart attack - cardiac rehab; Coronary heart disease - cardiac rehab; Coronary artery disease - cardiac rehab; Angina - cardiac rehab; Heart failure - cardiac rehab
Anderson L, Taylor RS. Cardiac rehabilitation for people with heart disease: an overview of Cochrane systematic reviews. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;12:CD011273. PMID: 25503364 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25503364.
Balady GJ, Ades PA, Bittner VA, et al. Referral, enrollment, and delivery of cardiac rehabilitation/secondary prevention programs at clinical centers and beyond: A presidential advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2011;124(25):2951-2960. PMID: 22082676 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22082676.
Balady GJ, Williams MA, Ades PA, et al. Core components of cardiac rehabilitation/secondary prevention programs: 2007 Update: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Exercise, Cardiac Rehabilitation, and Prevention Committee, the Council on Clinical Cardiology; the councils on Cardiovascular Nursing, Epidemiology and Prevention, and Nutrition, Physical activity, and Metabolism; and the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. J Cardiopulm Rehabil Prev. 2007;27(3):121-129. PMID: 17558191 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17558191.
Smith SC Jr, Benjamin EJ, Bonow RO, et al. AHA/ACCF secondary prevention and risk reduction therapy for patients with coronary and other atherosclerotic vascular disease: 2011 update: a guideline from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology Foundation. Circulation. 2011;124(22):2458-2473. PMID: 22052934 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22052934.
Thompson PD, Ades PA. Exercise-based, comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2019:chap 54.
Review Date 2/22/2018
Updated by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.