Cardiac Rehab for Heart Failure

Updated:May 9,2017

Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) can be an important and life-changing step in the journey to recovery and wellness for people with heart failure (HF). Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program that includes exercise training, education on heart-healthy living and lifestyle, and often counseling to reduce stress. For many people with HF, cardiac rehab plays a critical role in improving their quality and length of life.  

For most people with HF, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get in a cardiac rehab program. With regular access to coaching and medical staff, rehab can do a lot to help you on the road to better heart health and reduce your chances of future heart problems.

What Is Cardiac Rehab?

Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program to help heart patients recover and improve overall physical, mental and social function. The goal is to stabilize, slow or even reverse the progression of heart failure. This can help reduce the risk of heart disease, another cardiac event or death.

Cardiac rehab programs usually provide:

  • A medical evaluation to figure out your needs and limitations
  • A physical activity program tailored to your needs and limits
  • Counseling and education to help you understand your condition and how to manage it
  • Support and training to help you return to work or your normal activities
  • Counseling on modifying risk factors through diet and nutrition and the use of prescribed medications

What If I Can’t Afford Cardiac Rehab?

Unfortunately, not every patient is eligible or covered for cardiac rehab. The American Heart Association is working for the passage of laws and policies to ensure all Americans have access to affordable care and cardiac rehab. 

Investigate ways to overcome obstacles. If your healthcare provider has not talked with you about cardiac rehab for heart failure, ask. Talk with your family and friends too if you need help or transportation. Although many people feel they cannot afford to spend the time and effort needed to complete cardiac rehab, we know that rehab programs can and do save lives. And the benefits extend to from there, helping you feel better both physically and emotionally. Patients repeatedly report that the benefits are worth the investment of energy. Even if you cannot attend as often as you would like, going when you can is shown to be beneficial.

Other options: Our Support Network provides a place where you can share your story, find motivation and connect with those who truly understand your experience. The Support Network is there for you even after the formal rehab program ends. 

Also ask your doctor what the alternatives are for a formal cardiac rehab program, if there are obstacles that impede this type of program. Your healthcare provider may recommend a walking program outside of a formal program. 

Members of Your Rehab Team

In rehab, you may work with many different specialists. Your healthcare team may include:

  • A primary care doctor to provide routine care
  • A cardiologist, a doctor who diagnoses and treats heart problems
  • Clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners (who are experts in heart failure), other nurses and physician’s assistants to give care, perform tests and provide information
  • Physical and occupational therapists to assist with physical and skill-related rehab
  • Dietitians to teach heart-healthy eating and help develop meal plans
  • Mental health professionals to counsel you and your family members on emotional aspects of managing heart failure
  • Social workers and case managers to help with legal and financial advice
  • Pharmacists to fill prescriptions and help you better understand your medications
  • You and your loved ones because each step you take is an investment in your healthiest life

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This content was last reviewed May 2017.

Heart Failure