Cardiac rehab: General guidelines for exercise at home

The following guidelines for exercise at home may vary depending on your medical history, clinical status, and symptoms. These are just guidelines: You should discuss additional physical limitations or medical issues with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Your rate of recovery depends on age, gender, and other health conditions. Depending on your condition and how you respond to rehab, you may stay in a particular phase or move back and forth among the various phases. There is no set length of time that you must stay in a specific phase.

Your home program

A home program is the transitional phase of cardiac rehab after you leave the hospital, centering on your care and recovery at home. The focus is on caring for your incisions if you had surgery and increasing your activities of daily living. Your exercise program is usually low-intensity to prepare you for a more moderate- to high-intensity program in the next phase of rehab (phase II).

Follow your doctors' and nurses' discharge instructions to avoid postsurgical complications and to prepare yourself for a more active lifestyle. Your home program will vary in length depending upon your medical history and current condition.

Home exercise program

Exercise progresses from activities of daily living to regular exercise, such as walking or stationary cycling.

  • Approximate length: 2 to 6 weeks after hospital discharge
  • Physical goals: Take care of yourself after leaving the hospital, increase your strength, have a smooth transition from hospital to home.

Aerobic exercise

A regular walking or stationary cycling program is an essential part of your home exercise program. How fast you progress will depend on your overall cardiovascular and muscular strength. Always warm up and cool down. Never exercise at an intensity that causes shortness of breath soon after open-heart surgery. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid extreme weather conditions and temperatures. In extreme weather, you can try walking indoors at a mall or a gym.

Aerobic exercise guidelines

Mode

Frequency

Intensity

Time

Walking (indoors or outdoors)
  • Week 1 to week 4: 3 to 5 times a day
  • Week 4 to week 8: 2 to 3 times a day
  • Slow to moderate pace
  • Avoid becoming short of breath.
  • Avoid hilly terrain.
  • Week 1: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Week 2: 10 to 15 minutes
  • Week 3: 15 to 20 minutes
  • Week 4: 20 minutes
  • Week 5: 25 minutes
  • Week 6: 30 minutes
  • Week 7: 35 minutes
  • Week 8: 40 minutes
Cycling (stationary)
  • Week 1 to week 4: 3 to 5 times a day
  • Week 4 to week 8: 2 to 3 times a day
  • Little to moderate resistance
  • Comfortable speed
  • Avoid becoming short of breath.
  • Week 1: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Week 2: 10 to 15 minutes
  • Week 3: 15 to 20 minutes
  • Week 4: 20 minutes
  • Week 5: 25 minutes
  • Week 6: 30 minutes
  • Week 7: 35 minutes
  • Week 8: 40 minutes

Last Updated: October 8, 2008

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