Experts explain benefits of cardiac rehabilitation

If you or someone you know has suffered from a heart attack or surgery it’s likely that your medical team recommended you attend a 12-week rehabilitation program. Unfortunately, many choose to ignore that advice despite the fact that it’s covered under most insurances and Medicare. Here are some experts on the subject to hopefully enlighten and encourage you.

First up is a cardiologist in Atlanta, Dr. Basil Margoli whose video clip I found on the American Heart Association website:

“Cardiac rehab is more than exercise program. It’s a cardiac risk factor educational program with the aim of reducing future cardiac events. We know statistically that patients who go through a cardiac program have a 30 to 40 percent reduced incidence of repeat cardiac events in the future.

“It gives them the confidence to get back to their normal lifestyles again and to incorporate all the good things that we’ve taught them. It gives patients and their families a better understanding of heart disease and the risk factors,” Margoli said.

Cardiac rehab is a team effort that includes your PCP, your cardiologist, your pharmacist, your family, the rehab team at Bonner General Health and, of course, you. It consists of three elements: exercise counseling and training, education for heart-healthy living and counseling to reduce stress.

Randal Thomas, MD is the director of cardiovascular diseases at the Mayo Clinic. He says that after cardiac rehab “people function better. Your physical strength, your endurance, your ability to do things improves. Balance can improve.”

Ray Squires, PH.D. is the program director of cardiac and vascular rehabilitation at Mayo and he chimed into the video: “Also what’s very important is that it keeps people out of the hospital so patients participating in cardiac rehab are less likely to be re-hospitalized.

“Cardiac rehab is much more than just supervised exercise. It’s attention to modifying risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood sugar, uncontrolled blood pressure, obesity, depression, obstructive sleep apnea, et cetera.”

Thomas said that nationally only around 20 to 25 percent of eligible patients receive cardiac rehabilitation services, “This is very unfortunate because Mayo Clinic’s research shows that those who do show greatly improved survival rates.

“We’ve looked at people after angioplasty and stent placement, after surgery, after heart attack and in all those studies we consistently find that there’ll be a 45 percent difference in death rates in those two groups over the subsequent ten years.”

“The bottom line is that they live longer,” Squires said. “There’s a mortality benefit to participate in cardiac rehabilitation. Patients who participate in cardiac rehabilitation are much more likely to comply with their medications long term. They’re much more likely to comply with dietary measures, exercise, all those things.”

What the medical professionals say is pertinent, but so is what patients say. Julie O’Leary is an open heart surgery survivor and an advocate for Go for Red.

“I was obviously so shaken by this whole experience. It was so unexpected and I felt so afraid to work this fragile little heart. You’ve had this experience that was so frightening. You need to learn all over again what normal feels like.

“That’s why (cardiac rehab) is such a comforting experience to go through. The first attempts to get your heart rate up, and to try to lift things while all the while they’re monitoring you and they’re encouraging you and letting you know that you’re safe and all right,” O’Leary said.

“You learn the how-tos: how much, how long, how hard. You need to come away equipped with some knowledge about how to exercise to regain your strength, how to recover, how to heal and so you learn a lot there on just where to begin.”

O’Leary talked about the supportive environment. She called the rehab staff her coaches and said she learned to network with the other patients that were often attending sessions the same time she was. She referred to them as friends.

“That kind of community after an event like that is so encouraging. Again, you’re at a place of trying to find a new normal and starting the chapter of your new life,” she said.

For more information about BGH’s cardiac rehabilitation department call 208-265-7480.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.