DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently had a heart attack. Now my doctor wants me to start cardiac rehabilitation. Is it dangerous for me to start exercising so soon?
DEAR READER: I understand your concern. Not that long ago, rest was exactly what the doctor ordered after a heart attack. Taking it easy, the thinking went, would help the heart heal more quickly.
Now, doctors know that inactivity doesn’t help your heart or the rest of your body. Exercise actually strengthens your heart, if you do it correctly.
Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program. It’s designed to help you heal your heart and keep it healthy.
The centerpiece of cardiac rehab is usually a structured and supervised exercise program. Your initial attempts at exercise are closely monitored in a medical setting. You start off exercising slowly, for short periods, and gradually increase the pace. Monitoring can spot any heart problems that may develop while you exercise.
You should start cardiac rehab a month or so after a heart attack or bypass surgery. You can start even sooner after angioplasty.
You should expect to go to the rehab facility for a few hours, one to three times a week. Some people attend for just a few weeks. Others continue for months.
Properly supervised exercise not only is healthy for your heart after a heart attack, it also introduces many people to exercise for the first time as an adult.
Still need some convincing? People who participate in cardiac rehab are less likely to die during the first few years following a heart attack or procedure.
We have more information on cardiac rehabilitation in our Special Health Report, “Heart Disease: A Guide to Preventing and Treating Coronary Artery Disease.” You can find out more about it at my website.