Cardiac Rehab: Frequently Asked Questions

doctor with hospital patient

Do it for your heart

If you recently experienced a cardiac event or surgery but have not participated in a cardiac rehab program, why not?

Cardiac rehabilitation has demonstrated benefits, yet fewer than 20 percent of eligible patients participate. You need support to rehabilitate, recover and realize a new life after a cardiac event or diagnosis.

Kathryn Moore, a heart attack survivor, discusses how she benefited from participating in cardiac rehab:

Survivor Kathryn Moore explains the benefits of cardiac rehab

FAQ about cardiac rehab

Here are some common concerns – and some common sense reasons to pursue cardiac rehab.

Q: Do I need a referral from my doctor to start cardiac rehab?

A: Yes – and that’s one of the top reasons patients don’t go. All too often, doctors don’t suggest cardiac rehab, and it’s hard to participate in something you don’t know about. Studies show that women are even less likely than men to be referred to cardiac rehab, even though those who complete it receive greater health benefits. The short version? Ask your doctor to refer you to cardiac rehab.

Q: My doctor is always so busy. How can I get a referral with so little time to communicate?

A: Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are frequently pressed for time. Often, they can’t spend as much time as you (or they) would like to discuss things. You can help by being patient, persistent and organized. Write down any questions you might have in advance of every appointment. (See our list of cardiac rehab-related questions.)

If you are having trouble communicating with your doctor because of a language barrier, bring a family member or friend who can translate. You can also ask your doctor’s office if they can provide an interpreter – but be sure to ask well in advance of your appointments.

Either way, politely let your healthcare provider know that you have trouble understanding him or her. Ask your doctor to speak as slowly and clearly as possible. Request assistance if you are hearing-impaired.

Q: At my age, I don’t see how cardiac rehab could help. Isn’t it really too late for me?

A: Cardiac rehab isn’t just about having a healthier future and the possibility of living longer – it’s also about a better quality of life right now. Whether you’re 38 or 88, you are alive this moment – and it’s a precious gift. Talk with your medical team to find out how a cardiac rehab program can be tailored to your age and your physical capacity. Make today count.

Q: I just never feel good. How am I supposed to benefit from cardiac rehab if I’m too sick to go?

A: Feeling lousy can make us want to crawl in bed and stay there. Sometimes, that’s what our body needs as it works to heal. But that dynamic can also become a trap that leads to other health problems.

Talk with your medical team. Tell them exactly how you’re feeling: where you have pain or discomfort, and what symptoms you’re experiencing. If they determine that you can safely participate in cardiac rehab, ask them to be specific about any limitations you face and how much you should push yourself.

Then? It’s up to you to go. Cardiac rehab helps you get better – and, in all likelihood, feel better – when you stick with it over time.

Q: My family and friends aren’t really into this kind of thing. What are my options?

A: It’s hard to make healthy choices for yourself when the people around you don’t support your efforts. Eating habits, attitudes toward health, and long held traditions get reinforced across generations. Trying to introduce change can be seen as somehow going against the values of your family or community.

Try gently educating your loved ones about why you need to eat differently or become more physically active. The people who really care about you don’t want you to run the risks associated with heart problems. Explain that going to cardiac rehab and making healthy choices have everything to do with avoiding another heart event. It’s not about disrespecting them.

Q: I have too many responsibilities at work and home to bother with cardiac rehab. How can I resolve work schedule conflicts and balance everything?

A: It can be difficult to put your health first when you have other responsibilities. But remember, without a healthy heart you can’t do anything else.

Communicate with your family and your employer so that everyone understands: Your heart problem wasn’t a few days off work – it was a wake-up call. If you want to get back to your regular responsibilities, make cardiac rehab your top priority. 

Q: What if there are no cardiac rehab programs within a reasonable distance from me? Transportation is a problem.

A: First, be sure you know all your options. When you get a cardiac rehab referral from your doctor, explain that you live far from the nearest program, without easy access to transportation. Ask about medical transport services (sometimes called para-transit or accessible transportation), as well as homebound cardiac rehab.

If you do not have access to a cardiac rehab program, we offer a helpful alternative in the form of our Active Partnership for the Health of Your Heart™ program. It contains information and tools to help you regain and manage your heart health, including our Active Partnership workbook and DVD.

Q: I don’t have anyone to help me through this. Where can I find social support?

A: Emotional support makes a huge difference in how you recover from a heart-related event. The good news is, everyone can access the American Heart Association Support Network. It’s free, and it’s easy to register. Find support in this community of fellow patients and caregivers as you make the journey toward better heart health.