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How Cardiac Rehab Can Help Strengthen the Heart Through Exercise

Writer / Jeremy Kimbley, Exercise Physiologist at IU Health West Hospital
Photography Provided

After you suffer a cardiac event, there are certain steps you can follow to help strengthen your heart. One of those options is cardiac rehabilitation. Through this program, a trained team of experts can help you reach goals tailored to your specific needs.

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What is cardiac rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehab is an exercise and education program designed to help someone after they have a cardiovascular event. For someone who has a cardiac event such as a heart attack, stent placement, coronary artery bypass, valve replacement or repair, or even heart failure, our goal is to try to strengthen your heart as much as possible through exercise, to increase your functional capacity to return to normal activities.

Cardiac rehab is also dedicated to helping with lifestyle education. From a cardiac standpoint, we look at the patient as a whole and try to figure out what may have led to their cardiovascular issues. If lifestyle changes can help, we will help educate those patients on how to make those changes.

What does the process look like for getting into the program?

An order from the patient’s physician is usually all that is necessary to enter the program. The patient can request this from their physician or we can request it for them. After we receive that order, we will contact the patient directly to get them on our schedule. Often, that phone call involves educating the patient on exactly what cardiac rehab is, and explaining what to expect on the first visit.

What does the program look like?

Everything we do from an exercise standpoint is individualized to each patient. We start off with a six-minute walk test to give us a baseline of their functional capacity. Typically, with their individual goals in mind, we will start with 30 minutes of continuous cardiovascular exercise and then work them up to an hour of exercise as their heart gets stronger and their functional capacity increases. We will monitor heart rhythm and vital signs, and provide close team-to-patient interaction.

While the length of the program is tailored to each person, typically the minimum we recommend is four weeks, or 12 sessions. We can go up to three months, or 36 sessions.

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