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Heart to Heart

There's nothing remotely ordinary about having a bad ticker. Heart disease is prolific in the number of victims it claims. In fact, diseases of the heart are the leading cause of death for both men and women. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease has caused 26 percent of deaths in the United States. That's one in every four people. Scary, isn't it?

The point is: those with heart disease are part of a popular club, though obviously not by choice. If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with a heart condition or has returned home from heart surgery, it's important to be supportive but also critical that he or she be able to help themselves.

Cardiac Rehabilitation

Make no mistake, recovering from heart surgery may be one of the biggest battles one will ever fight, which is why a strict medically supervised cardiac rehab program should be followed, especially as you age. In a study from the Journal of the American Heart Association, elderly Medicare heart patients were less likely to die or have a heart attack if they attended the full number of reimbursed cardiac rehab sessions.

Cardiac rehab is a regiment of monitored exercise, nutritional counseling, emotional support and education about lifestyle changes to reduce risks of heart problems, according to heart physicians at the Mayo Clinic. The goals of cardiac rehabilitation are to help regain strength, to prevent the condition from worsening and to reduce risk of future heart problems. You can help your partner by encouraging them to follow the program and embrace a healthy lifestyle.

What to Expect

The first stages of cardiac rehab will last three to six months of both outpatient and home-based rehabilitation. In most cases, the program is broken down into four phases:

  • Medical evaluation.
  • Exercise and physical activity.
  • Lifestyle education.
  • Emotional support.

Medical evaluation. Done by the patient's health-care team, this is an overall assessment of capabilities, limitations, medications and risk factors for future heart problems. The evaluation sets a baseline for progress and ensures that the rehab program is safe and effective.

Exercise. The goal is to improve cardiovascular fitness through walking, jogging, swimming, cycling and other endurance activities. The program might also include strength training to increase your muscular fitness.

Education. This is all about learning how to change to a healthy lifestyle of diet and nutrition. Eating right and shedding excess weight are critical for long-term heart health. It's about reducing fat, sodium and cholesterol intake. Receiving support to break unhealthy habits, such as smoking, is also part of this program.

Support. As a caregiver, it's important to be supportive and recognize that depression and anxiety are common after heart surgery. Patients lose touch with their social support system, co-workers or friends. Counseling can provide healthy ways to cope with depression and other feelings, and the health-care team may also suggest medications such as antidepressants.

Tips for a Heart-healthy Diet Post Rehab

Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods.

Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.

  • Limit salt (sodium).
  • Stay at a healthy weight by balancing the calories you eat with your physical activity.
  • Eat more foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish.

For more tips on heart health, go to's Heart Health page.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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