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Published on August 04, 2020

Too many cardiac patients make this mistake

Cardiac Rehab

About 1.3 million U.S. adults could benefit from cardiac rehabilitation each year, but just one in four takes part in programs that could add years to their lives.

Cardiac rehabilitation can improve the cardiovascular health of people who are recovering from heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty or heart surgery. But only about 25 percent of those who were eligible for cardiac rehab and covered by Medicare took advantage of it, according to a recent study published in “Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“They're missing out on some huge potential health benefits,” said John J. Guerin, MD, FACC, a cardiologist based at the Cape Cod Healthcare Cardiovascular Centers in Falmouth and Sandwich.

“Many years back we thought it was a good idea to complete a cardiac rehab program, but we didn't have any data to support that assumption. But then researchers did several well-run studies that proved that people who participated in cardiac rehab did better long-term as far as recurrent heart attacks, heart failure and even death.”

Cardiac rehabilitation, commonly called “cardiac rehab,” is a supervised program that includes exercise counseling and training, education for heart-healthy living and counseling to reduce stress. Women, the elderly and minorities were most likely to miss out on cardiac rehab, according to the study in “Circulation.”

Sessions in Your Area

Cape Cod Healthcare’s cardiac rehabilitation programs in Hyannis and Falmouth are each accredited by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. The program at each hospital brings together a team that includes nurses, physical therapists, exercise therapists and social workers. Patients typically attend 90-minute sessions three times a week for 13 weeks and are closely supervised while exercising, including having their blood pressure and heart rate monitored.

“Exercise is an important part of cardiac rehab, but there’s more to the program,” said Dr. Guerin. “There’s the psychosocial part of it and the instructions about nutrition and healthy living.

“A lot of people are very nervous and anxious after they've had a life-altering cardiac event. Being able to exercise in a class with others who have been through the same thing is therapeutic.”

While some older patients may be too frail to begin an exercise program, age is not necessarily a barrier, he said.

“I have a number of patients who are well into their 80s who drive, live by themselves, do all their shopping and housework, and go out to social events. They can actively participate in a cardiac rehab program regardless of their age.”

Transportation, the time commitment and finances, including co-pays, are issues for some patients.

“We do try to tailor to the program, as much as possible, to meet people’s needs,” he said.

The exercise programs are also adaptable. If someone has a knee problem and cannot walk on a treadmill, they can use a bicycle machine, for example.

“If you have a loved one who suffered a heart attack or had a stent put in or had bypass surgery, tell them the more difficult part is done. In order to reap the benefits of their treatment, they need to go to a rehab program. We know that by doing so they’ll have a lower chance of having recurring heart issues and greater odds of living longer,” said Dr. Guerin.