Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and, according to the American Heart Association, approximately 30 percent of heart attack victims will have a second event. While cardiac rehab programs have been shown to decrease mortality rates by more than 25 percent, only one-third of heart attack survivors participate in outpatient cardiac rehabilitation programs. It’s time to change that.

Cardiac rehabilitation is a safe, proven way to reduce risk factors for heart disease. By reducing deaths and increasing the quality of life for those with cardiovascular issues, many professionals, including myself, feel cardiac rehab exceeds any pill or procedure.

Most patients undergoing cardiac rehab have had a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or coronary artery bypass surgery.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control released a study illustrating that those who’ve had cardiac events and took advantage of cardiac rehab were far more likely to avoid subsequent heart attacks than those who did not attend, or went only a few times. The rate of heart attack was consistently lower among those who attended more than 24 sessions and highest among those attending fewer than 12.

Many people think cardiac rehab is essentially going to the gym. It's definitely not. You won't find medically trained, cardio vascular specialists supervising at the local fitness club. Cardiac rehab is not an exercise program you complete in a few months, then go about your life as usual. Like losing weight, it can often be a lifetime commitment.

At the St. Mary’s Heart Center, Cardiac Rehab is designed to help heart patients reduce and control risk factors for future attacks, improve cardiovascular fitness and, most importantly, learn to live well even with heart disease.

This process takes place through several "phases," the first of which starts in the hospital following a cardiac incident. Many patients are highly motivated in the hours following treatment for a heart attack. Therapists begin crafting guidelines to fit the individual patient's needs.

Phase II gets underway after discharge from the hospital. Plans presented in Phase I are reinforced and progressive. Monitored exercise sessions, lasting about an hour, are available Monday – Friday at varied times for participants’ convenience. Phase II continues for 12 weeks or 36 visits. Phase II is sometimes the bump in the cardiac rehab road. Days missed or skipped at this point can often turn into weeks and months.

Phase III is a maintenance program that provides a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for individuals who have completed phase II and wish to continue on with their lifestyle choices and changes adopted during their rehab. Phase IV is a monthly maintenance program we want all cardiac rehab patients to achieve, including participation in our quarterly support group. This has proved very successful in long-term success.

It’s important to know that Medicare and most other insurance plans cover cardiac rehab programs. Patients typically qualify if they've had a heart attack, angina, angioplasty, congestive heart failure, stents, open-heart surgery or a heart transplant. We can always use another great stride in the right direction.


-- Angela Haley, RN, is the Nurse Manager of Cardiac Rehabilitation at St. Mary's Medical Center. She can be reached at 816-655-5664.