Cardiac rehab strengthens your heart. It may start with walking down the hallway in the hospital and progress to riding a stationary bike several times a week. But exercise is only one part of a cardiac rehab program. It also includes stress management, nutrition counseling and help managing your chronic conditions.
Cardiac rehab (cardiac rehabilitation) is a complete program you can do after you’ve had cardiac surgery or treatment for a heart issue, such as a heart attack. Cardiac rehab helps you recover and get stronger.
Multiple healthcare providers, including exercise and nutrition experts, offer guidance during your personal cardiac rehab program. It typically takes at least three months. Cardiac rehab can help you regardless of your age, sex or whether your heart issue was minor or major.
A cardiac rehab program combines:
Cardiac rehab may begin before the hospital discharges you and should continue long-term. Cardiac rehab phases are:
You may be able to do cardiac rehab at home, but check with your insurance company to see if they cover it.
The first phase of your cardiac rehab will happen during your hospital stay. In most cases, your healthcare provider will tell you to start cardiac rehab shortly after you leave the hospital. In addition to hospitals, other medical centers offer cardiac rehab programs.
Cardiac rehab is important for people who’ve had some kind of heart or blood vessel issue, such as:
Your healthcare provider can give you a referral to a cardiac rehab program.
Cardiac rehab isn’t as common as it should be. Each year, about 800,000 Americans have a heart attack. For 25% of them, it’s not their first one. Cardiac rehab can help prevent a second heart attack and decrease the risk of death over one to three years after taking part in the program. However, only 20% to 30% of those eligible each year enroll in a cardiac rehab program.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology endorse cardiac rehab for people with the heart conditions listed above.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Before creating a program for you, staff at the cardiac rehab center will give you a brief physical exam and get your medical history. They may also ask you to have basic testing, which may include:
Your cardiac rehab staff will work with you and your provider to:
In a group setting, the cardiac rehab staff will supervise you as you exercise. You’ll start out slowly according to their instructions.
As you complete more sessions, you’ll gain confidence and endurance. Gradually, you’ll increase the intensity and/or duration of your exercise according to your fitness level and medical history. Cardiac rehab staff will check your heart rate and blood pressure regularly to make sure you’re safe while exercising.
Cardiac rehab exercises can vary depending on the fitness level and risk factors you started with. Exercises may include:
In addition to exercise, cardiac rehab helps you with:
Most insurance companies (and Medicare) cover a 12-week cardiac rehab program with a total of 36 sessions. That works out to three one-hour sessions a week.
Completing a cardiac rehab program can add up to five years to your life expectancy, according to studies. Cardiac rehab is good for you in many ways. It can:
Cardiac rehab helps people who’ve had a heart attack or other heart problems recover. It creates a personal plan for safely improving physical health and managing other risk factors.
Having a heart attack or other heart issue can also be scary and make you feel depressed. Cardiac rehabilitation stresses the importance of mental health and quality of life. It provides holistic support for every part of rehab so you’re not alone in reaching your goals.
Several studies have found cardiac rehab helps people in various ways.
Researchers found cardiac rehab reduced:
In very rare cases, exercise during cardiac rehab can cause an injury or a dangerous heart rhythm. If this happens, the cardiac rehab staff will have you stop exercising so they can treat you right away. If needed, the cardiac rehab staff will also talk with your cardiologist or primary healthcare provider. They may want to examine you or order more testing before you return to cardiac rehab.
Yes. Follow the advice and instructions of the cardiac rehab staff. They have experience working with people like you every day. Exercising after a heart attack or other heart issue can be scary, but healthcare providers will supervise you during your cardiac rehab program.
You can bring up concerns with the supervising provider in your cardiac rehab program. But you may also contact your primary healthcare provider if you’re having trouble doing what the program asks.
In addition to regularly attending cardiac rehab, be sure to keep all of your follow-up appointments with the other providers in your care team.
When looking into cardiac rehabilitation programs, ask if they:
After you complete your last cardiac rehab session, the staff may ask you to perform another exercise stress test in order to:
Even though you “graduated” from center-based cardiac rehab, you should feel confident in continuing to exercise. You’ll also improve the heart-healthy benefits of regular exercise if you continue to use everything you learned about:
These can help you for the rest of your life.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Taking part in a cardiac rehab program puts a whole team of people on your side to help you recover from a heart attack or other heart issue. According to studies, cardiac rehab gives people many benefits, including more years of life and improved quality of life. With medical professionals monitoring you at every step, you can get stronger in just a few months and learn skills to improve your everyday life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/28/2023.
Learn more about our editorial process.