Cardiac Rehabilitation: A Complete Guide

Posted by Heart Hugger on Jan 11, 2023 12:00:00 AM

cardiac stethoscope

If you are struggling with heart health or are recommended post-surgery for cardiac rehabilitation, also known as cardiac rehab, you want to pay attention. This is a heart health program provided by medical professionals that is used to improve your overall cardiac response and recovery rates. If you have had a heart attack, heart surgery, or suffer from heart disease, the use of cardiac rehab can also reduce symptoms associated with cardiac-related illnesses and conditions.

After your heart surgery, your doctor may discuss cardiac rehabilitation for your recovery. This is a blend of exercise and care that is meant to help your heart health and long-term recovery.

Why Cardiac Rehab?

Your rehab plan will be tailored to your specific needs and abilities. It is designed from a medical perspective to ensure you recover well and reduce the risk of problems down the road.

What is Cardiac Rehab?

Cardiac rehab is a specialized wellness program dedicated to improving heart health. Some of the most common services available for cardiac rehabilitation are:

  • Mental health services, such as anger management to reduce stress
  • Smoking cessation courses
  • Physical activity programs and exercise plans
  • Health education focused on healthy living practices

Here you learn how to exercise according to a medically prescribed plan laid out according to your current physical health by a doctor or nurse. This ensures you are able to use exercise as a tool to improve your heart health. At the same time, you are protected from heart risks associated with strain and too much activity.

Who Gets Admitted Into Cardiac Rehab?

Generally, whenever a patient has heart surgery or visits the doctor to treat a heart condition, they will be admitted into cardiac rehab. This is a program that allows patients to mend after heart surgery or as part of a treatment for heart disease.

If you are interested in choosing cardiac rehabilitation for your heart health and you do not currently have heart disease, that is possible, too. Here you can speak with your health care provider to learn about cardiac disease prevention and heart health services available to the general public. Your health insurance plan may also offer free or affordable heart health classes and programs in your community.

What Cardiac Rehab Will Focus On

Many cardiac rehab plans unfold over a few months. Each stage of the rehabilitation process will be focused on where you are and where you need to be. By the end, you'll be set up to maintain your heart health and wellness.

Here are some of the components of cardiac rehab and what you might expect.


Exercise is one of the most important aspects of rehabilitation. It's good to start exercising as soon as possible, avoiding anything that requires you to lift more than five pounds. Your healthcare team will give you guidelines and let you know how often to exercise and what types will be most beneficial.


Cardiac rehab includes education and guidelines about key health considerations. Sleep is crucial, and your doctors will want you to make sure you're getting plenty of rest.


Medications are important to your cardiac surgery rehabilitation, but they can often seem a little overwhelming. All you need to focus on is learning why they have been prescribed and how they help, and, most importantly, taking them according to your doctor's instructions.


You may not have a full appetite for the first few weeks of your rehabilitation, but you must establish a strong diet that can last a lifetime. You're likely to lose some weight. You also may need to take some iron supplements as recommended by a doctor.


Your vitals and blood are going to need to be tested regularly. For now, your healing is being monitored--but this is a lifelong journey, and checkups and tests will become common for you.


Overall, cardiac rehab is about helping you live a lifestyle that will be kind to your heart. Much of your rehab will be focused on learning: What to eat, what changes to make, how to manage going forward. Be prepared for big (but necessary) changes, and know that they will help you live a long, healthy life after heart surgery.

Cardiac Rehab Timeline

Cardiac rehab generally takes three months to complete, depending on the patient and the availability of services. The time frame range is two to eight months, and this is also based on insurance coverage. For example, your insurance plan may only allow for a set number of weeks of treatment. Therefore, your heart doctor will need to adjust the level of care and treatment modalities to your timeline of coverage.

Physical Activity as Cardiac Rehab

So, what are the "doses" of physical activity after heart surgery? What are the specific guidelines? Here's a quick look.

  • Lifting and reaching. Although lifting and reaching are not generally regarded as exercises in themselves, they are a big- and often unnoticed- part of everyday life. Depending on the specific surgery you've undergone, you'll want to do only light housework for awhile, and only when you feel up to it. You'll also want to avoid lifting over five pounds until your doctor says otherwise.
  • Climbing stairs. Although most of us climb stairs on a daily basis, even a few steep steps becomes almost an exercise after cardiac surgery. While your balance will likely be off, and you may feel out of breath or tired, you can climb stairs. Just be sure to avoid them whenever possible in order to save your energy.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise is an important part of cardiac surgery rehabilitation, but it must be done in specific ways. Make exercise a daily routine. Focus on time, not on intensity, and be sure not to overdo it. Finally, be sure to check with your doctor for your unique requirements and guidelines.

Emotional Experience of Cardiac Rehab

Cardiac surgery rehabilitation comes with some emotional baggage too. You're likely to be anxious, stressed, depressed, and more--but it's important to remember that the worst is behind you.

Managing pain is one of the biggest challenges of healing, and one of the biggest enemies of cardiac surgery rehabilitation. The simple truth is that you are likely to experience pain for a few weeks after the surgery. It is important to consult your doctor concerning the use of pain pills, but it's also good to keep in mind that you'll eventually need to minimize your reliance on medication.

Tips For a Successful Heart Surgery Rehabilitation

Take the Right Precautions

You won’t be able to maintain your regular schedule immediately after surgery. You will need assistance, so it’s important to reach out to your support network and compile a list of individuals who are willing to help you. You will also want to set up your home for when you return from the hospital. Lying in a bed won’t be possible post-surgery, instead set up a recliner or other comfortable furniture. Remember that stress inhibits recovery so the more prepared you are, the quicker your ability to heal.

Listen to Your Body

It will be tempting to fall back into old routines, but heart surgery rehabilitation requires some rest and nourishment. First, you’ll want to focus on heart-healthy foods. High-fiber and high-calorie foods will keep your digestion in check while giving your body the energy it needs to recover. Second, slowly work exercise back in. Avoid heavy weights, but walking and stretching will give your body the activity it requires to gain back strength and flexibility. Lastly, be on the lookout for negative symptoms such as extreme redness, heightened pain, and an open incision.

Rest After Heart Surgery

Taking the proper steps during heart surgery rehab is extremely important. Your body will be sensitive to sharp movements or overexertion. Prepare by asking close family and friends for help and setting up an oasis at home for when you return. Then, make sure to take care of your body with proper food and exercise.

Looking for more information on cardiac surgery rehabilitation? Contact us today!

Heart Hugger

Written by Heart Hugger

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