If you’ve had a heart attack, heart surgery, or other cardiac event, your doctor may have recommended a cardiac rehab program. Also called cardiac rehabilitation, cardiac rehab is an outpatient program that can help strengthen your heart and lower your risk of heart problems in the future.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of cardiac rehab.
Cardiac Rehab Tip 1: Start your program as soon as your doctor tells you it’s OK
Everyone will have a different recovery time after a heart attack or other heart-related event. Your doctor will let you know when it’s safe to begin a cardiac rehab program.
Once you get the OK from your doctor, start your cardiac rehab program as soon as you can. Studies show that cardiac rehab can help you live longer and avoid future heart problems.
Cardiac Rehab Tip 2: Ask questions
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Your cardiac rehab team, which may include a doctor, nurse, registered dietitian, and an exercise specialist, will develop a rehab plan based on your individual needs. This plan will include exercise, which you’ll do at a cardiac rehab clinic under the supervision of your rehab team, as well as lifestyle changes that you’ll need to make based on your risk factors.
Be sure to ask questions about your plan so that you understand what you’re supposed to do, how you’re supposed to do it, and why. If you’re unsure about anything – from how fast you should be walking on the treadmill, to how much salt you can have in your diet — ask your rehab team.
Cardiac Rehab Tip 3: Make healthy changes
To help protect your heart from future damage, you may need to make lifestyle changes. These can include:
- Taking medications to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol levels
- Choosing a healthier diet that is lower in sodium, fat, and sugar, and higher in fiber
- Getting regular physical activity
- Quitting smoking or using tobacco products
- Finding healthy ways to cope with stress
Your cardiac rehab team will help you make changes step by step and connect you with other professionals — like smoking cessation experts and counselors – that can help you stick with your plan not only during rehab, but also after you finish your program.
Cardiac Rehab Tip 4: Tell your rehab team about any symptoms you have
Some people may have chest pain after a heart attack, known as angina, which may feel like squeezing, burning, heaviness, or tightness beneath your breastbone. Make sure you tell your rehab team about any symptoms you have during exercise, like chest pain, fatigue, or dizziness.
And, remember: Even if you’ve had a heart attack before, each heart attack can have different symptoms. If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 right away.
Cardiac Rehab Tip 5: Talk about how you feel emotionally, too
Many people feel scared, anxious, or depressed after a heart-related event. Tell your cardiac rehab team about how you’re feeling – not only physically, but also emotionally. Your team can connect you with support groups and counselors who can help.
Cardiac Tip 6: Keep up with your lifestyle changes after your program ends
Cardiac rehab can give you the tools you need to help lower your risk of a future heart problem, not only in the weeks and months that follow your heart attack or surgery, but for the rest of your life as well. Once your program ends, continue:
- Choosing heart-healthy foods
- Getting regular physical activity
- Avoiding tobacco
- Managing stress in healthy ways
To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.