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Cardiac Rehabilitation (cont.)

How Well It Works

The many benefits of cardiac rehab include:

  • A reduced risk of major heart problems and death after a heart attack for those who participate in a cardiac rehab program that includes exercise.
  • Recovery after bypass surgery.
  • Decreased severity of angina and decreased need for medicines to control angina.
  • Reduced need for hospital stays because of heart problems. Costs for doctor visits and hospital stays are reduced for those who participate in cardiac rehab. Visits to the emergency room are also reduced.
  • Decreased blood pressure.
  • Reduced shortness of breath and less fatigue in people with heart failure.
  • Ability to exercise longer.
  • Improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Reduced emotional stress, depression, and anxiety.

Cardiac rehab can increase the quality of your life by improving your health overall; helping you lose weight, if necessary; reducing depression, stress, and anxiety; and helping to increase your self-esteem.

What to Expect

The goal of cardiac rehab is to help you re-establish and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle after a major heart problem, such as a heart attack or heart surgery, or if you have a long-term heart condition. Most likely, as you progress through cardiac rehab, you'll be concerned about returning to work, resuming recreational and other activities, and resuming a normal sex life.

To maintain the benefits of cardiac rehab, you will have to continue to exercise and follow the healthy lifestyle changes you've learned. Research shows that many people who start a rehab program stop after only a few months, often after the end of phase II, when the close monitoring ends.

Exercise and lifestyle changes. Although exercise, especially weight training, is a significant part of cardiac rehab, lifestyle changes combined with exercise may be more important than exercise alone in keeping your heart healthy. Staying with your program can give you the support you need to make these changes a permanent part of your life and may help reduce the risk of further serious heart problems.

Getting back to work. After you have a heart problem, you may worry about going back to work. Most people can return to work. How quickly you can return to work depends on how bad your heart problem is and how much physical activity your job requires. Some people go back to work part-time in 2 to 3 weeks. Others may require a longer recovery.

If you have a very serious heart problem or your job involves heavy lifting or a great deal of stress, you may want to see a job or vocational counselor. A job counselor can help you return to your current job or help you find training to start a new job.

Resuming sex. You or your partner may be worried that you will have symptoms such as chest pain or will not have enough energy for sex. Sharing your concerns and fears about having sex is important for both partners. Both partners need to feel ready to restart having sex. Discuss your concerns with a health professional from your rehab program, who can help you and your partner decide if your concerns are warranted and give you suggestions for resuming sex. In general, it is safe to resume sex about 6 weeks after an uncomplicated heart attack.

Managing stress. Stress management may lower the risk of serious heart problems, such as heart attacks. People who do not deal well with anger and frustration may have a higher risk of coronary artery disease. Learning to manage stress is often part of programs to help you make positive changes in your lifestyle.

Seeking treatment for depression.Depression is often overlooked, especially in older adults, but commonly occurs after a serious heart problem. Depression can make it difficult for you to have the energy to perform some of the cardiac rehab programs. If you feel you suffer from symptoms of depression, make sure you seek help.

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