Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist

A cardiac rehabilitation specialist helps heart attack survivors improve their heart health. They make individual plans for each person to follow in a three-month program. A cardiac rehabilitation specialist will give you exercises to do slowly and then increase your exertion over time. They monitor your blood pressure and oxygen level.

What is a cardiac rehabilitation specialist?

A cardiac rehabilitation specialist is like a coach who makes a personal plan for you to recover after a heart attack. They can start you off slowly. Then, they gradually increase your exercise intensity. You’ll work with a team of cardiac rehabilitation specialists, and each might have a different role in helping you recover after a setback.

What does a cardiac rehabilitation specialist do?

A cardiac rehabilitation specialist helps you strengthen your heart after a heart attack or other heart issue. They supervise you when you’re doing your specialized exercise program. This ensures that you’re safe and aren’t overdoing it. If you have an issue while exercising, they know how to respond and help you.

They can:

  • Design an exercise program to fit your specific needs.
  • Teach you about nutrition and managing weight.
  • Help you stop using tobacco products.
  • Help you manage your blood pressure, cholesterol level and diabetes.
  • Help you improve your heart disease symptoms and live longer.
What do they do in cardiac rehab?

People in a cardiac rehab program take part in an exercise program that a cardiac rehabilitation specialist creates for each person. Cardiac rehabilitation specialists provide medical supervision while you follow their plan. This three-month program also helps people with other aspects of their health, such as eating healthier and controlling stress.

Is cardiac rehab the same as physical therapy?

No. Cardiac rehab is much more than physical therapy, which only includes exercise and strength building to help you recover after an injury to a muscle or joint. In addition to providing an exercise program, cardiac rehab can help you stop using tobacco products, improve your eating habits, cut down your stress level and manage your medications.

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When to see a cardiac rehabilitation specialist

You may see a cardiac rehabilitation specialist after you’ve had:

  • A heart attack.
  • Heart failure.
  • A heart transplant.
  • Angioplasty and/or stents in your coronary artery.
  • Stable angina.
  • Surgery on your heart, such as a heart valve replacement or coronary artery bypass surgery.

A cardiac rehabilitation specialist helps you recover from these issues. Also, they work with you to prevent them from happening again. In addition to helping you have less chest pain, they help you have more strength for ordinary tasks like carrying laundry.

Do I need a referral to see a cardiac rehabilitation specialist?

Yes, you’ll need a referral to see a cardiac rehabilitation specialist. And you may need to ask a provider for one. You’ll be glad you did. Studies have found that people who take part in cardiac rehab feel better, get stronger and can lower their risk of another heart attack. According to studies, cardiac rehab is helpful for anyone, regardless of their:

  • Sex.
  • Age.
  • Severity of their heart issue.

With a provider’s referral, many insurance plans provide coverage for cardiac rehab for certain clinical situations.

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What to expect at a cardiac rehabilitation specialist appointment

At your first appointment, your cardiac rehabilitation specialist will talk with you about your medical history. They’ll ask you which medications you take, including those you buy without a prescription. They may also talk about your eating habits and how you’re feeling. They’ll measure your height and weight. Also, they’ll determine your current fitness level and decide which kinds of activities make sense for you.

Once a cardiac rehabilitation specialist has the information they need to put together an exercise plan for you, you’ll visit two or three times a week for three months. At each session, you’ll do aerobic exercises and activities to make your muscles stronger. You may ride an exercise bike and then lift weights, for example. During your visit, your cardiac rehabilitation specialist may check your oxygen level and blood pressure a few times.

You’ll be in a room with other people who’ve had a cardiac event and are using machines and weights to get physical activity. It’s similar to a gym, but everyone there has had an issue with their heart.

What kind of tests does a cardiac rehabilitation specialist do?

A cardiac rehabilitation specialist will check your:

  • Heart rate.
  • Blood pressure.
  • Oxygen level.
  • Heart rhythm with an electrocardiogram (EKG).

They’ll also measure your waist and calculate your body mass index (BMI). They may ask you to do a six-minute walk test to see how far you can walk in that amount of time.

Also, they may ask you questions to find out how well you can do everyday tasks.

What does a cardiac rehabilitation specialist specialize in?

Cardiac rehabilitation specialists are experts in helping heart attack survivors get stronger and take control of their health. They put together an exercise plan that’s specific to you and your situation. Like a personal trainer, they’re there to guide you and supervise your exercise.

How to become a cardiac rehabilitation specialist

Cardiac rehabilitation specialist requirements start with a bachelor’s degree in a healthcare field. Other options include a registered nurse license or rehabilitation therapist credential. Once you have one of those, you need to work 1,200 hours in cardiac rehabilitation. Then you can apply to take an exam to become a certified cardiac rehabilitation professional.

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Where do cardiac rehabilitation specialists work?

Cardiac rehabilitation specialists work in hospitals that have cardiac rehabilitation programs. They may start working with you while you’re still in the hospital. When your provider sends you home after your hospital stay, they may advise you to continue cardiac rehab on an outpatient basis. Some cardiac rehab centers may be in separate locations instead of on a hospital campus.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

After a heart attack, it can be scary to exercise. You may worry that you’ll end up in the hospital again. But a cardiac rehabilitation specialist will ease you back into physical activity and monitor you to make sure you’re OK. A cardiac rehabilitation specialist works to help you improve your health and quality of life. You’re not alone in pursuing your goals, and they want you to succeed.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/19/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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