Cardiac rehab after heart failure is a marathon, not a sprint.
Rehabilitation isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Anyone could need the space and sustained support to get back on their feet. Living with heart failure is no different. Because heart failure can be debilitating, cardiac rehab is a way to improve your symptoms and quality of life.
“Reduced ejection fraction has its most significant impact on quality of life because patients feel fatigued,” says Cardiologist Marrick Kukin, MD. “Cardiac rehab really helps encourage the patient to start doing more activity and to give them the confidence that they can do this.”
Cardiac rehabilitation is a program that involves exercise, training, and education under the supervision of a medical team. Some people start cardiac rehab after a cardiac event, such as following a heart attack, or after a surgery. However, people with heart failure also benefit from cardiac rehab. Whether you participate for a prolonged period or drop in when you can, it can be your key to improved clinical outcomes.
Is cardiac rehab right for your heart failure treatment?
Cardiac rehab can be helpful for people whose heart failure symptoms are severely limiting their life. For instance, regular exercise, and walking in particular, can be really helpful for people with heart failure. However, fatigue and shortness of breath can make even walking very challenging, and some patients may need a little extra support. If you need help building up your stamina and getting your energy back, cardiac rehabilitation might be the right fit for you.
“The goals of cardiac rehabilitation are to help people feel comfortable doing more and to help them achieve activities of daily living,” says Dr. Kukin. “Doing the activity is crucial to improving their overall feeling of wellbeing and quality of life.”
What you can expect with cardiac rehabilitation
In cardiac rehab, you’ll get education about heart-healthy habits, supervised exercise for safe progression, and counseling to learn about stress management. You’ll also have guidance on how to gradually increase physical activity without overdoing it and setting back your progress.
Cardiac rehab team—ASSEMBLE! Here’s who will be on your medical team at cardiac rehab:
- An internist for routine physicals and care
- A cardiologist to monitor your heart symptoms
- Clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners (experts in heart failure) for day-to-day help, tests, and administering medications
- Physical and occupational therapists to help you regain motor skills and confidence in achieving them
- Dietitians to promote heart-healthy eating and help you meal plan back at home
- Mental health professionals for counseling and emotional support for you, your family, and caregivers
- Social workers to help navigate legal and financial concerns
During cardiac rehabilitation, you’ll be supported by a number of professionals for all aspects of your recovery. “The physical therapy team will monitor blood pressure and heart rate to make sure that it's not becoming excessively high, or fast, or too low and encourage the patient to start walking more on a gradual and progressive basis,” says Dr. Kukin.
Many patients will use their exhaustion as a reason to keep them from going to rehab. But unfortunately, Dr. Kukin maintains that “rest begets rests” and perpetuates your fatigue. That’s where the structure of rehab comes in, helping you to take it one step at a time. Whether you’re concerned about the level of time, effort, or financial resources needed, talk to your doctor about how you can benefit from cardiac rehab.
Marrick Kukin, MD, is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.
- Cardiac Rehab for Heart Failure. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2017. (Accessed on September 27, 2021)
- Cardiac rehabilitation. Bethesda, MD: U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020. (Accessed on September 27, 2021)
- Murphy S, Ibrahim N, Januzzi J. Heart Failure With Reduced Ejection Fraction: A Review. JAMA. 2020;324(5):488-504.