Men's Health, Women's Health, Your Health Ben Brown | 7 years ago

Getting Back to Normal: Best Exercises for Cardiac Rehab

Contrary to what many believe, exercise and rehabilitation is particularly important for heart patients.

A healthy heart lets you stay focused on doing what you love.  Learn how Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute can help you keep your heart healthy.  “Many cardiac patients worry about stressing the heart with exercise,” said Lauren Gibson, MS, ACSM-RCEP, registered clinical exercise physiologist with Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “But, actually, research shows that the best way to strengthen the heart after a cardiovascular episode is through regular exercise, particularly with a cardiac rehab program.”

What is Cardiac Rehab?

Cardiac rehab has great benefits for patients who recently had a heart attack, coronary artery disease, coronary bypass surgery, chest pain (angina) or valve replacement surgery. These programs offer a combination of exercise and education to help the patient return to his or her best physical condition. “Of all the muscles you work during exercise, your heart is the most important,” said Gibson. “The goal of exercise as a part of cardiac rehab is to help patients improve endurance, feel stronger and decrease the risk for future heart problems. Patients who join rehab programs often have a faster and safer recovery.”

Cardiac Rehab and Exercise

To exercise safely, cardiac rehab patients receive an exercise program that’s tailored to them and careful supervision from registered nurses and exercise physiologists. Exercise is typically structured in two phases: • At the Hospital: Within a few days following a cardiac episode, patients will be encouraged to get moving: stretches in their hospital room or walking down the hallway. • After Discharge: Once you leave the hospital, you may be instructed to exercise at a cardiac rehab center, to receive coaching and ensure you’re exercising properly and safely. Alternatively, many patients receive an outpatient home exercise program. “Cardiac patients who exercise regularly are less likely to have another cardiac event and are sometimes able to decrease medications over time, compared to those who remain sedentary,” said Gibson. For the best results, a cardiac rehab exercise program should: • Start Slowly: Particularly during the first few weeks following a cardiac episode, patients are encouraged to do light physical activity, like walking, and closely monitor their pulse. • Include Aerobic Exercise: Sometimes called “cardio,” aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and increases the rate and depth of your breathing and maintains both through the entire session. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, running, swimming or cycling. • Include Resistance Training: This type of exercise is designed to contract muscles against an external resistance to increase strength, tone and endurance. Typically, strength training involves targeting groups of muscles (chest, biceps, back, etc.) by lifting weights or using resistance equipment like elastic bands or yoga balls. • Start with a Warm Up and End with a Cool Down: “Slowly raising your heart rate during exercise will help minimize the stress on your heart,” said Gibson. “Warming up helps prevent injury and ensures your muscles are well supplied with oxygen before you start any moderate to vigorous exercise.” Likewise a cool down keeps the blood flowing in the body after exercise and prevents your heart rate from dropping too quickly, which can cause light-headedness. • Be Regular: “A regular exercise routine helps strengthen your heart and improve your overall health,” said Gibson. For cardiovascular heath, Gibson recommends building up to aerobic activity most days of the week, for at least 30 minutes each time. For strength training she recommends performing two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, two to three times per week. • Be Safe: Avoid exercising in extreme temperatures, wear comfortable clothing, drink plenty of fluids and wait an hour after eating to start exercising. If during exercise you have chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath, stop immediately and inform your doctor of your symptoms. “Cardiac rehab is a long-term program that should lead to a permanent change in lifestyle for the better,” said Gibson. “You'll adopt heart-healthy behaviors, improve your diet and gain strength, which are all geared toward the ultimate goal of decreasing your risk of coronary artery disease and other heart conditions.”