You CAN Be Healthy After a Heart Attack

You CAN Be Healthy After a Heart Attack

When someone has suffered a heart attack, he or she usually hopes to “get back to normal” as soon as possible after leaving the hospital. But according to the team at Virtua’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Centers, “we want our patients to feel even better than they did before their heart attack.”

The main goals are to keep patients from ending up back in the hospital, and, as much as is possible, halt disease progression. To meet these goals, nurses, doctors, exercise physiologists, and educators take a holistic approach to helping each patient embrace a healthy new lifestyle.

Cardiac Rehab – First Steps

After the primary cardiologist has cleared the patient to exercise, the individualized cardiac rehab plan can start. The staff completes a comprehensive assessment, called a bio-psychosocial assessment. This assessment paints a clear picture of each individual’s health and life circumstances. It often helps unearth underlying problems that were never addressed before the heart attack.

Then, it’s time to get to work.

  • The patient is hooked up to a telemetry monitor while using a piece of exercise equipment for a set time. The telemetry monitor continuously displays heart rate and rhythm for the supervising nurse. An exercise physiologist also intermittently monitors blood pressure.
  • A full course of cardiac rehab usually involves 3 visits a week for 8 to 12 weeks.
  • The patient uses equipment that includes treadmills, traditional exercise bikes and Airdyne bikes (which work the upper and lower body), upper body cycles (ergometers), free weights, and strength-training machines.
  • Patients who are unfamiliar with this type of equipment receive one-on-one instruction on using the machines.

Patients also are encouraged to exercise on their “days off,” using the guidelines they receive from the cardiac rehab team, until they reach the goal of 150-210 minutes of purposeful exercise each week. This is the amount of exercise recommended for every adult by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Overcoming Exercise Fears after a Heart Attack

At first, patients are usually nervous when exerting themselves. This is only natural; a heart attack is a significant and scary life event. But according to the cardiac rehab team at Virtua, it usually only takes two weeks before most people experience positive changes. There’s comfort that comes from the continuous monitoring. When you work up a sweat and realize your heart can handle it, it's very empowering. What’s more, wonderful relationships are often formed among patients who do their sessions at the same time. When there’s someone across the room from you who’s been in your shoes and is not giving up, it helps you keep pushing.

Exercise goes far in optimizing health after a heart attack, including helping with:

  • Cardiorespiratory endurance
  • Strength and flexibility
  • Weight management
  • Joint pain management
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved mood and a decreased risk of depression

Cardiac Rehab Can Lead You to Better Health

Cardiac rehab is just one part of a total care plan for someone who’s had a heart attack. A patient might have just learned that they’re prediabetic, or they don’t have their diabetes under control, and will be referred to Virtua Diabetes Care. Patients with chronic pain from other medical issues such as arthritis, will be referred to pain specialists. And those with underlying sleep issues will be referred to a sleep specialist or for a sleep study.

Best of all, the athletic camaraderie found in cardiac rehab doesn’t have to end when the course of treatment is up. Virtua offers a program called Next Steps at its Fitness Centers. These eight-week, medically based fitness programs are specially designed for people who want extra support while managing a cardiac condition.

Many people who’ve had heart attacks and survived feel they have been given a “second chance.” The Virtua Cardiac Rehabilitation Centers help these people become empowered, knowledgeable, and strong after a heart attack so they can live healthy lives.

Updated January 8, 2019

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