Cardiac Rehabilitation: Exercising for Your Heart

Exercise pulse check.jpg

After a cardiac event, it can be nerve-racking to think about exercise again. How much exercise is too much? What’s an appropriate timeframe to wait before beginning exercise? What exercises are best for heart health? With lots of questions surrounding this topic, UnityPoint Health cardiologist Boothapuri Venkatesh, FACC, M.D., discusses the importance of cardiac rehabilitation, as heart patients work their way back into a regular exercise routine.

Benefits of Cardiac Rehabilitation

“Following a cardiac event, such as a heart attack, patients are normally enrolled in outpatient cardiac rehabilitation,” Dr. Venkatesh says. “These are generally hour-long sessions, three times a week, for two to three months. Cardiac rehabilitation is covered by most insurance policies and not limited to heart attacks.”

Cardiac rehabilitation is also recommended after a heart valve repair or replacement, heart transplant, lung transplant, chronic heart failure diagnosis and more. While cardiac rehabilitation allows patients to start exercising again, it also helps prevent another heart event or being readmitted to the hospital.

“Structured exercise helps with the psychologic and physiologic consequences of cardiac illness," he explains. "After a heart attack, patients often understandably have depression, anxiety and fear about performing physical activity. Structured exercise in a monitored setting considerably helps alleviate these concerns.”

What to Expect in Cardiac Rehabilitation

Dr. Venkatesh outlines what patients can expect if they’re not sure how to prepare for their first cardiac rehabilitation session.

“Generally, cardiac rehabilitation sessions involve a brief warm-up and stretching period, followed by 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercise," Dr. Venkatesh  explains. "This can involve a treadmill, stationary bicycle, elliptical or rowing machine. Sometimes, resistance training is incorporated. Finally, the session ends with a cool-down period. Throughout these sessions, vital signs and heart electrical activity (EKG) are monitored."

After participating in cardiac rehabilitation for the amount of time their cardiologist recommends, heart patients begin or resume exercising on their own.

Exercises Best for Heart Health

After completing cardiac rehabilitation, Dr. Venkatesh says the hope is patients continue regular exercise, which helps reduce the risk of a future cardiac event, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, maintain healthy weight and control diabetes.

“Aerobic activities, such as jogging are helpful, but even walking 30 minutes a day for five days a week is healthy and associated with lower cardiovascular risk," Dr. Venkatesh points out. "Rowing and moderate weightlifting are protective as well. Generally, any exercises are beneficial, provided they are performed regularly. Ultimately, the exercise program and its level of intensity should be tailored to the individual patient in consultation with their cardiologist and cardiac rehab team.”

For more information about exercises to benefit your heart health and help preventing heart disease, talk to your UnityPoint Health primary care provider or find a doctor today.