Strengthening Your Heart
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Strengthening Your Heart

Just like people who have broken a bone go to physical therapy to strengthen it, many people who have a heart condition or have a procedure on their heart can attend Cardiac Rehabilitation. In both cases, carefully monitored exercise can help patients recover stronger and faster. In celebration of Cardiac Rehabilitation Week, which is observed the week of Valentine’s Day each year, here are some commonly asked questions about Cardiac Rehabilitation.

What is Cardiac Rehabilitation? Cardiac Rehabilitation is a way to strengthen your heart and decrease your risks of a heart event using a personized program tailored to your treatment plan. It includes safe and comfortable progressive aerobic exercise and education on nutrition, stress management, and other heart-health topics. It’s like a special gym, with friendly and helpful staff, just for people who are recovering from a heart procedure or event.

Where is Cardiac Rehabilitation? Lots of hospitals have Cardiac Rehabilitation programs, because they are so useful in helping people recover their strength after heart trouble. The program at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington is accredited by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. It is easily accessible with its own first-floor entrance.

Who conducts Cardiac Rehab? Under the supervision of cardiologists from SVMC Cardiology—including Steven Anisman, MD, FACC, and Scott Rogge, MD, FACC, the medical co-directors—a registered cardiac care nurse, and a physical therapist guide every participant through an individualized program specially designed to meet their needs.

Who participates? People from all over our region and from all walks of life participate in Cardiac Rehabilitation. They all have one thing in common: they all have a need to strengthen their hearts. People who have angina or heart failure and those who have had a heart attack, a cardiac surgery (like a coronary bypass or valve surgery), a coronary artery angioplasty or stents, or a heart transplant may be eligible to participate. 

When and how often do patients go and for how long? Participants attend the program two or three times a week for about an hour per session. Many start with a 36-session program and continue either on their own at home or at Cardiac Rehabilitation as part of a maintenance program.

What do the staff do to help participants? The RN and physical therapist assess your risk factors and stress levels. They provide education and support for maintaining a healthy weight, eating in heart-healthy ways, and avoiding tobacco. They also monitor your blood pressure, lipids/cholesterol, and diabetes. They recommend a personalized exercise program that is tailored to your individual goals and ability. They provide communication with your doctor and other healthcare providers following a cardiac event.

What do participants do when they are there? They ride stationary bikes, use hand bikes, walk on treadmills, or step on recumbent steppers. They are monitored and get help when they need it. Plus, they learn different ways of measuring how hard they are working and what would be the best level of exertion for them. Most importantly, they socialize with other participants and have a good time.

What is the cost? Cardiac Rehabilitation is covered by most health insurance companies. There may be a small monthly fee for the maintenance phase of Cardiac Rehab, which is designed to keep you in shape long term.

What benefits do participants notice? Participants come into the program with specific goals. Some want to return to work as soon as possible, while others would like to regain an active and independent lifestyle. Those who stick with it experience a very high level of success. The body responds so well to exercise. According to the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, participants can increase their life expectancy by as long as 5 years.

They lessen their chances of a heart attack, control heart disease symptoms (like chest pain and shortness of breath), stop or reverse damage to blood vessels in the heart, lessen the physical and emotional effects of heart disease, improve stamina and strength, and improve confidence and wellbeing.

Those interested in learning more can call 802-447-5132 or talk to their primary care provider about whether they are eligible to participate.

Patricia Ryan, MSN, RN, CCRP, is the Cardiac Rehab nurse coordinator at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington. 

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