If you have experienced a heart attack or heart surgery, cardiac rehabilitation is a normal part of the treatment plan recommended by doctors. If it is not suggested, ask your doctor if you are eligible and could benefit from this. The purpose is to lower your likelihood of experiencing another heart attack by improving your heart health in partnership with trained professionals.
What is Cardiac Rehabilitation?
Often, you will be referred to a program for 3 months (depending on your condition and needs). During this time, you will receive tools and education from experts that are tailored to your specific health. Cardiac rehabilitation typically consists of 3 focus areas:
1. Heart-healthy Lifestyle. Learn how to adapt your everyday habits to center on heart-healthy nutrition and behaviors that prevent further damage and risk to your heart. Experts will educate you on how your previous habits contributed to your heart condition, as well as which healthier habits to replace them with and how.
2. Exercise Training. Practice safe and helpful exercise that strengthens your heart. Experts from your therapy team will recommend movement that you can start with and develop from. Be vocal about what you struggle with and what you prefer so they can work with you towards a sustainable active lifestyle.
3. Stress Reduction. Stress has very real effects on your heart, and experts will help you identify and learn to better respond to and address the factors that trigger stress for you. Develop mindsets and relational skills to foster relationships that relieve rather than cause stress.
Think of your best heart health as being determined by many factors and areas. Improving these three core areas will help give you a foundation for managing your recovery and move forward with an improved daily routine that will protect your heart.
How to Apply Successfully at Home
Just as it was important to focus during the official program, it is the application that is key to getting the changes and benefits you need for a longer, healthier life.
1. Do it With Others. Your health doesn't have to be a solitary effort. One of the indirect but crucial lessons you can take away from the rehab program is that it's better with help and support. Ask your spouse, family members, neighbours, coworkers and friends to actively support you and ask them in specific ways. Join a swimming or walking club if you don't have the motivation to exercise alone. Ask a coworker who also wants to work on their diet to have lunch together and keep each other accountable to eating well. Ask your family to help you research, shop for, or create heart-healthy meals.
2. Enjoy Your Exercise. Consistent exercise is vital to keeping your heart healthy, and one of the best ways to keep it going is to choose exercise you enjoy. If you do not exercise at all, then this may take some experimenting. Try walking, tennis, or dancing until you find the one that you feel comfortable, challenged and happy to continue. Work with your personality and daily routines. Find exercise or classes that take place at the times of day you prefer, and if you need novelty, change your mode of exercise every season: swim in the winter, hike in the summer.
3. Prioritize Emotional Health. Remember that your heart provides physical life but also represents your emotional life. Put into practice the stress management ideas and skills that you learned in cardiac rehab, and ask your family and friends to join you in this as well. Besides stress, changing food habits and recovering from a major heart event or surgery is likely to bring a degree of depression. You may experience emotions of fear or anxiety if you have worry over the state of your health or whether you can make the right changes. How well you will be able to eat, exercise, and ask for help will be largely influenced by your attitude, confidence and emotional health. If you find that this area is the most foreign or difficult for you, ask your doctor or counsellor from the cardiac rehab program to recommend a counsellor that you can continue to dialogue with.
We hope this helped inform you both of the benefits you could receive from cardiac rehabilitation, as well as how to apply it to your everyday life following the program. Take good care of your heart today, and every day.