Do I Need Cardiac Rehab?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented and yet, more people die from heart conditions in the United States every year than from any other cause. For people who have had a cardiovascular event or intervention, cardiac rehabilitation is an important part of recovery.

What is Cardiac Rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehabilitation or cardiac rehab is a medically-supervised and customized program that involves exercise training, education on heart-healthy living and counseling to reduce stress. Studies have shown that cardiac rehab decreases the chances of patients from dying in the five years following a heart attack or bypass surgery by around 20-30%.

This program is provided in a hospital, outpatient clinic or rehabilitation center, but other programs may also be done at home. Cardiac rehab is a team effort which involves the patient and a medical team that includes doctors, nurses, exercise specialists, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians or nutritionists and mental health specialists. The program may start while the patient is still in the hospital or right after discharge and may last up to 3 months. Research has shown that patients who have attended at least 25 sessions benefit more from the program compared to those who have attended fewer sessions.

A cardiac rehab program consists of three phases:

  • Phase I: Clinical Phase

    This phase begins soon after surgery and involves assessing the patient's physical ability and motivation for rehabilitation. The cardiac rehab team may start guiding the patient through non-strenuous exercises and range of motion drills.

  • Phase II: Outpatient Cardiac Rehab

    As soon as the patient is stable and cleared by the attending physician, outpatient cardiac rehab may begin. These are three phases: information/advice, tailored training program and a relaxation program. It typically lasts 3 to 6 weeks and may last up to 12 weeks.

  • Phase III: Postcardiac Rehab

    Patients in this phase are allowed more independence and self-monitoring. It centers on increasing flexibility, strengthening and aerobic conditioning.

Who Needs Cardiac Rehabilitation?

Anyone who has had a heart attack, heart failure, heart valve surgery, coronary artery bypass grafting or percutaneous coronary intervention are encouraged to register for a cardiac rehab program.

Benefits of Cardiac Rehabilitation

Cardiac rehab improves the quality of life, the ability to carry out day-to-day activities and prevent depression and anxiety. It can also have both long- and short-term benefits, including:

  • Strengthening your heart and body after a heart attack
  • Relieving symptoms of heart problems, such as chest pain
  • Building healthier habits such as getting more physical activity, quitting smoking and eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Improving your mood
  • Making you more likely to take your prescribed medicines that help lower your risk for future heart problems
  • Preventing future illness and death from heart disease


Physical activity and other heart-friendly lifestyle changes that are part of the cardiac rehab very rarely cause serious problems, such as muscle and bone injuries or life-threatening heart rhythm problems.

Getting Started With Cardiac Rehabilitation

It is important to get the recommendation of your treating physician to properly assess your eligibility before signing up for a cardiac rehab program. If you have been recently treated for a heart attack, your cardiac surgeon might recommend waiting for 4 weeks before exercising. Once you are cleared by your surgeon, you’ll set goals for your heart health and work together with your medical team to create a cardiac rehab plan that works best for you. Make sure to take your medications correctly and on time, and if you experience new or worsening symptoms during the course of the program, immediately call 911.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Harvard Health Publishing

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