Cardiac Rehab Exercise Guidelines

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Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program that helps people with heart problems. Individuals receive help in cardiac rehab to recover from heart surgery, prevent heart problems, reduce cardiovascular disease risk and address the lack of physical activity. The overall goal of cardiac rehabilitation is to improve a patient's quality of life. The cardiac rehabilitation team includes doctors, nurses, dieticians and exercise physiologists. Programs take place in a hospital and medically supervised fitness facilities. Rehab programs include information on heart healthy eating, stress reduction and exercise guidelines.

Exercise Safety

The medical team begins with a fitness assessment to determine a patient's current level of fitness. Based on these findings, an individualized exercise prescription is created. The exercise prescription will include guidelines regarding warm-up, flexibility exercises, and cooldown. If you are able to tolerate an increased level of exercise, aerobic exercise, and strength training will be included in the program.

You will be given a written plan with detailed information about each fitness component. Keeping track of exercise with a workout journal is also a good idea. Your job is to communicate with the medical team to ensure that you stay on track to achieve your individualized exercise goals.

Aerobic Exercise

The medical team may advise you to participate in aerobic exercise two to five days per week. The length of aerobic training will vary from 30 to 60 minutes of exercise. Certain pieces of cardiovascular equipment will be included in the aerobic exercise program. If you had recent chest surgery, equipment such as an elliptical walker, a rowing machine, or an arm ergometer may not be listed in the aerobics program. Walking, cycling, or climbing the stairs are all adequate forms of aerobic exercise and work well to increase cardiovascular capacity.

Improving Muscle Strength

Patients are typically asked to perform muscle strengthening exercise two to five days per week. In a hospital-based cardiac rehabilitation program, lightweight dumbbells and exercise bands are used for muscle strengthening. As you advance to higher phases of cardiac rehabilitation, exercise equipment is added to the fitness program. The exercise plan provides detailed information regarding sets and repetitions. Usually patients start with light weights and perform 12 or more repetitions per set of exercise. Exercises for the entire body are performed during each exercise session.


Flexibility is integral to improving physical fitness. The strength of a muscle depends on its ability to move through a full range of motion. Stretches are performed at the beginning of an exercise session to improve range of motion. At the end of the exercise session exercises are performed to improve flexibility. Patients are provided with handouts detailing stretches to perform during each exercise session. The hope of the medical team is to improve flexibility over the course of cardiac rehabilitation.