Cardiac Rehabilitation and Heart Failure

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program designed to improve cardiovascular health for people with many forms of heart disease or following a significant cardiac condition including heart attack or heart surgery including a transplant. Cardiac rehab is specifically tailored to a person’s age and physical ability.1-3

Cardiac rehab is designed to be followed long after the supervised program ends. It is aimed at improving well-being, supporting recovery after a heart attack, other forms of heart disease or surgery to treat heart disease.2,3

Program goals include building strength, preventing deterioration, reducing the risk of future heart problems, and improving general health and overall quality of life.2 It has demonstrated sustained benefits, yet only about 20 percent of those who are eligible, choose to participate in the program.1 Education about nutrition, medication adherence, and general lifestyle choices help participants strengthen their hearts and teach them how to lead healthier lives.3 Cardiac rehabilitation is tailored to individual needs by the specialized healthcare team who look to develop a program that is safe and effective for each person.2 They understand that support is needed to rehabilitate after a cardiac event.1

Referral required

Cardiac rehabilitation is not the right path for everyone with a cardiac condition. Entry into a rehab program requires a physician’s referral.1-3 Participation is based on an evaluation that includes medical history, a physical exam and some tests to be sure you are ready for and can commit to a cardiac rehabilitation program.2

The team

A multi-specialty team of cardiologists, nurse educators, and specialists in nutrition, exercise, mental health, and physical/occupational therapy work together to formulate a plan and support your progress.2 Yet, despite all the professionals, the most important team member is the patient. Commitment to a lifestyle change is required to gain the benefits.

Exercise and education

There are three main components to a cardiac rehab program: exercise, education, and counseling.1


Exercise is important for overall and cardiovascular health. Activity gets your body and heart working.1 The healthcare team will provide instruction on proper exercise techniques including form, stretching, warm-up and cool down.2 Low impact activities such as walking or riding a stationary bike are generally the starting point of the program because they carry a lower risk of injury or exhaustion. Exercise goals include increased strength, increased aerobic capacity, even learning how to monitor heart rate and activity level.2,3

The first stages of most cardiac rehabilitation programs generally last about three months, usually three times a week over a 12-week period for 36 sessions.3


Healthy living is a learned process. Making good choices, reducing risk factors and taking responsibility can speed the recovery process.1 Having support and accurate information can help you to make healthy lifestyle changes. This includes information on eating, exercising, medication regimens, smoking, and sexual activity.2 Cardiac rehab provides a safe place to ask questions.


Stress is generally not good for your heart. Emotional support services provided in cardiac rehab help participants identify and learn to handle routine sources of stress.1 Experts can provide support and help you manage any fear and anxiety associated with the return to your home life.2

Each person in cardiac rehab will have an individual set of goals created specifically for them. With successful completion of rehab, a home-based maintenance program will be established that is practical and can be performed safely. New diet and exercise habits, along with stress management techniques can help you resume a normal life.2

Benefits of rehab

People of all ages can benefit from cardiac rehabilitation. What you learn in the program can help you rebuild both physically and emotionally. The program can reduce the risk of death from the onset of new heart problems. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology both recommend cardiac rehabilitation programs.2 Traditional health insurance and Medicare often cover the associated costs of cardiac rehab. It is always good to check with your insurance company to see if services are covered.2 Your local rehab program may also have an insurance specialist who can help.

The newly learned lifestyle habits will be important for the rest of your life to maintain the heart-health benefits.2 Cardiac rehab is a comprehensive approach to recovery that focuses on the whole person. It teaches the information and provides tools required for long-term change.3

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