Cardiac Rehabilitation

Heart Disease

WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF CARDIAC REHABILITATION?

The overall goals of cardiac rehab are to help you:

  • Recover after a heart attack or heart surgery.
  • Address risk factors that lead to coronary artery disease and other heart problems. These risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, overweight or obesity, diabetes, smoking, lack of physical activity, and depression and other emotional health concerns.
  • Adopt healthy lifestyle changes.
  • Improve your health and quality of life.

The rehab team will work with you to reach these goals. You will do this through increased daily physical activity, following a heart healthy eating plan, quitting smoking, and improving your emotional health.

INCREASED DAILY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Physical activity lowers your risk for heart problems, such as a heart attack. It helps reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. It also helps control your blood pressure and blood sugar level.

Physical activity will help you improve muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance. It can help you lose weight, which can lower your risk for heart disease. Physical activity also helps you cope better with stress, and it may boost your sense of well-being.

Exercise training as part of cardiac rehab may not be safe for all patients. For example, people who have very high blood pressure or severe heart disease may not be ready for exercise training. These patients can still benefit from other parts of the cardiac rehab program.

FOLLOWING A HEART HEALTHY EATING PLAN

Improving your diet will help you control your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. It also may help you lose weight if you’re overweight or obese, which is an important step for lowering heart disease risk.

The dietitian on your cardiac rehab team will help you create a personal eating plan.

QUITTING SMOKING

Quitting smoking will help you control cholesterol and blood pressure and lower your risk for heart problems. It also will make it easier for you to take part in physical activities.

IMPROVING YOUR EMOTIONAL HEALTH

Learning how to manage stress, relax, cope with problems, and build a social support network can improve your emotional as well as your physical health.

Some communities have support groups for people who have had a heart attack or heart surgery. They also may have walking groups or exercise classes.

Physical activity helps some people cope with stress. Other people reduce stress by listening to music or learning to focus on something calm or peaceful. Some people learn yoga, tai chi, or how to meditate.

There are many different types of “relaxation techniques” (ways to relax). By learning to relax and cope with stress, you can reduce your anxiety and lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.

This is true even if you don’t reduce other risk factors. Improving your emotional health can decrease your risk of death and future heart problems. It also can increase the chance that you will quit smoking and adopt other healthy behaviors.

Your rehab program also may offer individual or small group counseling to help you.

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28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 26: Go Bananas with Potassium

To lower your blood pressure, don’t just eat less sodium. You should also increase your potassium intake, as it speeds up the body’s sodium excretion, say researchers at the Hypertension Institute of Nashville. Lead author Mark Houston, MD, says most Americans consume more sodium than potassium, but it should be the other way around. Some popular potassium-rich foods to help fix this: baked potatoes, tomato paste, lima beans, yogurt, cantaloupe, and bananas.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 25: Steer Clear of Secondhand Smoke

Got friends or coworkers who smoke socially? Stay away when they light up and your heart will thank you. The effects on the cardiovascular system due to passive smoking are, on average, 80 to 90% as great as those due to active smoking, research shows. Even brief (minutes or hours) exposure to secondhand smoke can have cardiovascular effects nearly as great as long-term active smoking.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 24: Indulge in Dark Chocolate

Cap off your day with a nibble of this healthy dessert. Dark chocolate varieties contain flavonoids, antioxidants that make blood vessels more elastic. In one study, 18% of patients who ate it every day saw blood pressure dip. Have an ounce (at least 70% cocoa) daily.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 23: Do Something Sweet for Your Partner

There’s a lot of proof that marriage buffers you against heart disease, but that may be true only if you’re happily coupled, says Agatston. One study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that spouses who reported a lot of negative encounters with their partner had blood pressure that was, on average, 5 points higher than that of single people. The emotional stress of a difficult marriage typically causes adrenaline levels in the blood to spike, raising blood pressure; it can also cause blood vessels to spasm.

To make sure your marriage doesn’t go on autopilot, forge little ways to stay connected all the time. If you do something nice today (like paying an unexpected compliment or taking on a chore he normally handles) chances are he’ll reciprocate soon, which helps bolster your bond.

Feel closer in 5 minutes with these fast relationship-boosters

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 21: Stay Connected to Loved Ones

Strong ties to family, friends, and community reduce anxiety and fight depression — two factors that increase your risk of a heart attack. Make a lunch date with a friend you’ve been playing phone tag with, dedicate at least 1 night a week for a sit-down family dinner, or plan to visit your place of worship. Resolve to do one of these things every day (yes, jetting off a quick thinking-of-you e-mail counts).

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 20: Get in Touch With Your Spiritual Side

Studies indicate that those with regular spiritual practices who meet with a faith community — attending church or temple, for example — live longer and better and are far less likely to have a heart attack. You can still reap the benefits even if you can’t attend regularly; just getting involved socially, like volunteering at a food drive, can help.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 18: Assess Your Stress Levels

One of the biggest causes of stress is trying to live in a way that’s not consistent with who you are. Ask yourself: Am I doing what I want to do? Am I getting my needs met? Every day, run a reality check on what you’ve done. When it says that your actions aren’t true to the kind of person you are, make sure you listen.

Spend time with people and on activities that make you feel happy and challenged in a healthy way — not drained or burned out.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 17: Spice Up Your Workout

The best exercise is one that you’ll continue to do. So every day, in addition to your regular workout, try something new just for fun — hitting a tennis ball against the house, shooting hoops with your kids, or dancing around your bedroom after work. If you find something that you like, incorporate it into your daily workout.

Research shows that people who are active in little ways the entire day burn more calories and are generally healthier than those who exercise for 30 to 60 minutes and then sit at a computer, says cardiologist and Prevention advisor Arthur Agatston, MD.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 16: Cook with Garlic

Just one clove a day — or 300 mg 3 times daily — reduces the risk of a heart attack at least three ways: It discourages red blood cells from sticking together and blocking your arteries, it reduces arterial damage, and it discourages cholesterol from lining those arteries and making them so narrow that blockages are likely.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 15: Swap In Soy

These plant proteins can help lower cholesterol when you eat them in place of less healthy foods. (Think tofu instead of beef stir-fry or edamame in lieu of dumplings).

It’s best, however, to limit processed soy (from chips and patties) and avoid soy supplements. The problem with these is that we do not always know the amount of phytoestrogens (plant chemicals in soy that function in ways similar to the hormone estrogen) in them. This can make its effects on the human body unpredictable. And exposure to high concentrations of phytoestrogens could stimulate the growth of cells that are responsive to estrogen, which include many breast cancers.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 13: Start or End Your Day with Stretching

Flexibility may be key to heart health: Adults over age 40 who were the most limber had 30% less stiffness in the arteries than less-bendy participants in a recent Japanese study. Stretching for 10 to 15 minutes a day may keep arteries pliable; they may be affected by the elasticity of the muscles and tissue that surround them. Try some gentle yoga moves to improve your flexibility.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 11: Change Your Bread Spread

Olive oil is ideal for dunking your bread, but if you must use a spread, pick one with cholesterol-lowering sterols. Adding 2 g of these plant compounds to your daily diet can help lower your total cholesterol by about 10% — often within 2 weeks, according to numerous studies published in both American and European medical journals. That may not sound like a substantial reduction, but it could translate to a 20% lower risk of heart disease.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 10: Take a 20-Minute Walk

Just 2.5 hours of exercise a week (that’s a little more than 20 minutes a day) could reduce heart attacks by one-third, prevent 285,000 deaths from heart disease in the United States alone, and practically eliminate type 2 diabetes. Wow!

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 9: Make Nuts Your Go-To Snack

Studies have found that those who eat more than 5 ounces of nuts a week are one-third less likely to have either heart disease or a heart attack. Just don’t overdo it — nuts are high in fat and calories, which can pack on pounds if you inhale them by the fistful.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 8: Make Room for Veggies

To get the 2 cups that nutritionists recommend you eat daily, aim to make vegetables 50% of your meals. Extra points for picking cruciferous vegetables such as kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage, which are a gold mine of antioxidants and other heart-saving phytochemicals.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 7: Start Your Morning With Juice

Orange juice contains folic acid that helps lower your levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to a higher heart attack risk. Grape juice is loaded with flavonoids and resveratrol, both potent antioxidants that may discourage red blood cells from clumping together and forming an artery-blocking clot. Choose 100% fruit juices to limit excess sugar.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 4: Carve Out Time for Sleep

Every extra hour of sleep middle-aged adults can add to their nightly average reduces their risk of coronary artery calcification, a cause of heart disease, by 33%, according to a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. When you’re even a little sleep deprived, your body releases stress hormones that constrict arteries and cause inflammation.

If you routinely wake up feeling tired or need an afternoon nap, then you’re probably sleep deprived. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours a night to function well.

See 20 all-natural ways to get more sleep every night

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 3: Cook Like an Italian

Use MUFA-rich olive oil in your food prep whenever possible. The heart-healthy fat lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and raises “good” HDL cholesterol. Bonus: Olive oil is also rich in antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, like Alzheimer’s.

Substitute olive oil for butter or margarine at the dinner table, drizzle it on salads, and use it to replace vegetable oils in baking wherever possible. Buy only cold-pressed, extra-virgin oil; it retains more of the olive’s heart-healthy antioxidants than other forms.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 2: Scan Food Labels for Saturated Fat

Adults who read food labels and nutrition facts slash twice as many calories from fat as those who don’t give them a look, according to one study. When it comes to heart health, that’s important: Don’t let fat exceed 30% percent of your calories. And more important, make most of your fat the healthy monounsaturated (from olive oil, nuts, dark chocolate, avocado) and polyunsaturated (from salmon, flaxseed, walnuts) kinds.

Limit saturated fat intake to 7% of your total calories (for a 1,600-calorie diet, that’s about 12 g a day). And avoid trans fats whenever possible; they should comprise 1% of your daily calories, or less than 2 g a day. (Look for “hydrogenated” on ingredient lists; trans fats are most often found in cookies, crackers, baked goods, and other processed foods.) Both of these fats raise levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol.