What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The first stages of most cardiac rehabilitation programs last about three to six months. During that time, you'll work with a team of health care professionals, including cardiologists, nurse educators, dietitians, exercise rehabilitation specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Cardiac rehabilitation has four main parts:

  • Medical evaluation. Initial and ongoing evaluation will help your health care team check your physical abilities, medical limitations and other conditions you may have, and keep track of your progress over time.

    During your evaluation, your health care team will look at your risk factors for heart disease or stroke. This will help your team tailor a cardiac rehabilitation program to your individual situation, making sure it's safe and effective.

  • Physical activity. Cardiac rehabilitation will improve your cardiovascular fitness through walking, cycling, rowing, or even jogging and other endurance activities. You may also do strength training (lifting weights, for example) to increase your muscular fitness.

    Don't worry if you've never exercised before. Your cardiac rehabilitation team will make sure the program moves at a comfortable pace and is safe for you, but in general you should exercise three to five times a week. You'll be taught proper exercise techniques, such as warming up and stretching.

  • Lifestyle education. Guidance about nutrition can help you shed excess weight and learn to make healthier food choices aimed at reducing fat, sodium and cholesterol in your diet.

    You'll also receive support and education on making lifestyle changes and breaking unhealthy habits, such as smoking. And you'll learn how to manage pain or fatigue. Cardiac rehabilitation also gives you ample opportunity to ask questions about such issues as sexual activity. Finally, it's critical you closely follow your doctor's advice on medications.

  • Support. Adjusting to a serious health problem often takes time. You may feel depressed or anxious, lose touch with your social support system, or have to stop working for several weeks.

    If you get depressed, don't ignore it because depression can make your cardiac rehab program more difficult, as well as impact your relationships and other areas of your life and health. Counseling will help you learn healthy ways to cope with depression and other feelings. Your doctor may also suggest medications such as antidepressants. Vocational or occupational therapy will teach you new skills to help you return to work.

Although it may be difficult to start a cardiac rehabilitation program when you're not feeling well, you'll benefit in the long run. Cardiac rehabilitation can guide you through fear and anxiety as you return to an active lifestyle with more motivation and energy to do the things you enjoy.

Cardiac rehabilitation helps you rebuild your life, both physically and emotionally. As you get stronger and learn how to manage your condition, you'll likely return to a normal routine, along with your new diet and exercise habits. It's important to know that your chances of having a successful cardiac rehabilitation program rest largely with you; the more dedicated you are to following your program's recommendations, the better you'll do.

After cardiac rehabilitation

After your cardiac rehabilitation program ends, you'll need to continue the diet and exercise habits you learned for the rest of your life to maintain heart-health benefits.

Jun. 26, 2014