how to take care of your heart

how to take care of your heart

If you’ve experienced a cardiac event, like a heart attack, heart surgery, or have another heart-related condition, you’ve probably heard the term “cardiac rehabilitation.” 

Like any other rehabilitation, cardiac rehabilitation helps people regain strength and improve their cardiovascular health through exercise and other regimens. Cardiac rehabilitation is a critical component of recovery for patients who have experienced a cardiac event. 

Various healthcare professionals, including exercise physiologists and nutritionists, collaborate to create a rehab plan and provide personalized guidance to the patient throughout the program. 

Keep reading to understand how to take care of your heart with a solid cardiac rehab plan.

How is a Cardiac Rehab Plan Created?

The first step in determining a patient’s cardiac rehab plan involves a thorough medical evaluation and risk assessment. This process helps healthcare providers develop a personalized rehab plan that is tailored to the patient’s specific needs. 

This process typically includes:

  • Reviewing the patient’s past medical history, including previous heart conditions and treatments.
  • Conducting a comprehensive physical exam to evaluate the patient’s current health status.
  • Completing tests such as electrocardiograms (EKGs), stress tests, and imaging studies to assess the patient’s heart function and identify any underlying issues.

After the evaluation and testing are complete, doctors have a more thorough understanding of how the heart is currently functioning, and can build a plan based on this information and  the goals for the patient.

Exercising the Body’s Most Important Muscle

It’s safe to say that the body’s most important muscle is the heart, and just like any other muscle, exercise is important to help strengthen it. 

Not only does regular physical activity help strengthen the heart muscle, it also improves circulation and enhances overall cardiovascular fitness. An exercise program is carefully designed to match the patient’s fitness level and medical condition, gradually increasing in intensity over time. 

Some key components of exercise training might include:

  • Aerobic exercises, including walking, cycling, and swimming. These activities improve cardiovascular endurance.
  • Strength training, consisting of exercises that build muscle strength and improve overall physical function.
  • Flexibility exercises, like stretching routines, can enhance flexibility and reduce the risk of injury.

A Surprising Part of Rehabilitation; Education and Counseling

When you think of rehabilitation, you probably picture exercising and stretching. However, education and counseling are also extremely important aspects of cardiac rehabilitation. In this part of rehab, patients learn about heart-healthy lifestyle changes, stress management techniques, and ways to reduce risk factors for future heart issues. 

Topics covered in education sessions often include:

  • Diet and nutrition: Teaching patients about maintaining a heart-healthy diet, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Medication management: Giving patients information about prescribed medications, their purposes, and potential side effects.
  • Strategies and support for quitting smoking: Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease.

There is also psychological support. This extends beyond the other topics discussed. Heart disease and its treatments can take a significant emotional toll on patients. Psychological support is an essential part of cardiac rehabilitation. Psychologists involved in the patients’ care can help them cope with anxiety, depression, and stress through:

  • Individual Counseling: One-on-one sessions with a mental health professional to address specific emotional and psychological needs.
  • Group Therapy: Support groups where patients can share experiences and encouragement with others facing similar challenges.
  • Stress Management Techniques: Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation exercises to help reduce stress levels.

Making a Commitment to Your Heart Health

According to The Cleveland Clinic, although formal cardiac rehabilitation typically lasts at least three months, patients shouldn’t think of it as a short-term program. Rather, it should be viewed as a lifelong commitment to heart health. 

Patients are encouraged to maintain the healthy habits they develop during rehabilitation and to continue regular follow-up visits with their healthcare providers. By continuing with a regular exercise routine, following a balanced, heart-healthy diet, and keeping up on regular check-ups to detect any changes early on, patients are less likely to experience heart issues later on.