Exercise and cardiac rehabilitation

Exercise is an important part of cardiac rehab. Combining exercise with other lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet and stopping smoking, reduces the risk of future heart problems. An exercise test is usually done before you begin your cardiac rehab exercise program. This test will show what types of exercise you can safely do and how soon you can begin to exercise.

Studies show that you can benefit from exercise whether you exercise at a high intensity for just a short time or at a low intensity for a longer period of time. If, for example, you are a person who finds exercising difficult, you still can obtain the benefits of regular exercise simply by walking.

Cardiac rehab exercises can:

  • Lower your risk of dying of heart disease.
  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Help you control your diabetes.
  • Make your chest pain less severe and happen less often.
  • Reduce your symptoms of heart failure.
  • Lower your cholesterol levels. Exercise alone may neither change cholesterol plaque buildup that is already in the coronary arteries nor improve blood flow to the heart. But exercise combined with lifestyle changes, such as eating a more nutritious diet, stopping smoking, and reducing stress, can lower cholesterol levels and lower the risk of rupture of cholesterol-laden plaques, which can lead to a heart attack.
  • Help you lose weight or stay at your weight. Exercise combined with other lifestyle changes, such as eating a more nutritious diet, can reduce your body weight (a risk factor for coronary artery disease). Most important, exercise helps prevent regaining weight.

Exercise can also improve your quality of life, endurance, and muscle strength. After a few months of exercise in a cardiac rehab program, you can increase your ability to exercise. Your daily activities (such as carrying groceries) will be easier to complete. You may also experience an improved sense of wellness, because exercise can help alleviate depression, stress, and anxiety.

You will be taught to check how hard you are working when you exercise. You will be taught to check your heart rate or your exercise level known as a rating of perceived exertion (RPE). It is important to keep your heart rate from getting too high. Your doctor will tell you how fast your heart rate should be with exercise. Self-monitoring is often used during the last stage of a rehab program, when you continue your cardiac rehab on your own without close supervision.

Riding a stationary bike, walking on a treadmill, and resistance training (working with weights) are types of exercise you may do during cardiac rehab.

Last Updated: October 8, 2008

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