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November 17 2017

Rehabilitation helps heart patients resume physical activity after a heart event or procedure

By Kooroush Saeian, MD

Undergoing a recommended medical procedure to treat heart and vascular disease is a vital step in improving health for a heart patient – but it’s not the only one. To live a full life, people with heart disease must follow doctor’s orders, which usually include taking medication as prescribed, eating healthy foods and being physically active.

Medically supervised cardiac rehabilitation is the most important factor in living well after a heart event or procedure. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states: Cardiac rehab can improve your health and quality of life, reduce the need for medicines to treat heart or chest pain, decrease the chance you will go back to a hospital or emergency room for a heart problem, prevent future heart problems, and even help you live longer.

Inpatient rehab

Rehab starts in the hospital as soon as your heart specialist approves it. Just like the individual care you receive for a heart procedure, your cardiac rehab plan is customized for you.

Your recovery plan typically will include a review of your medical history, medication and health risk factors such as weight, smoking, diabetes or pulmonary issues. You may also have post-procedure medical tests to check your current health status. In addition, cardiac rehab staff will measure the oxygen level in your blood, your heart rate and your blood pressure during exercise to ensure that you can safely reach and maintain a specified activity level over a sustained period.

Outpatient rehab

The next phase of cardiac rehab takes place on an outpatient basis, generally beginning one to two weeks after a heart event. Your rehab program may be prescribed for six to 12 weeks, depending on needed care.

Cardiac rehab nurses, physicians, dietitians and exercise specialists are dedicated to overseeing your care during this phase. The goal is to help you adjust to and follow medication, dietary and exercise requirements.

As you exercise in the cardiac rehab gym, your heart rhythm is monitored by rehab staff. Gym visits also include education and counseling about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Pharmacists, registered dietitians and other specialists all have a role in this aspect of your program. Medicare and most insurance plans cover standard cardiac rehab programs supervised by health professionals.

This second phase of cardiac rehab is designed to help give you the confidence and functionality to resume normal activities as you recover and restore your health.

The third phase of rehab is also recommended for most heart patients. It’s a lifelong commitment to exercise, preferably in a cardiac rehab gym staffed by health care professionals.


An after-rehab exercise program associated with a health care facility should include continuing education in nutrition and lifestyle choices as well as tracking of your blood pressure, weight and medications. Patients can choose to participate in a local program that is convenient for them. A physician's prescription is usually required. Ask your insurance provider if you qualify for any benefits related to exercise programs.

By exercising in a facility overseen by rehab professionals, people can also get informed answers to questions and receive immediate assistance with health care if needed.

Whether you have had a heart attack, coronary stent procedure, open heart surgery, heart transplant or transcatheter aortic valve replacement, rehabilitation is a vital part of the recovery process. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about cardiac rehabilitation or want to start or resume an exercise program.

Kooroush Saeian, MD, is the medical director for cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at ProHealth Care. For more information, visit ProHealthCare.org/CardiacRehabilitation. To watch a ProHealth Minute interview with Dr. Saeian, visit ProHealthCare.org/CardiacRehabVideo.


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For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.