Cardiac Rehab in Full Swing Again: Heart-Strengthening Exercise and Lifestyle Changes

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June 17, 2020


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When the threat of COVID-19 forced people to stay in their homes beginning in March, individuals who were enrolled in Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program had to stop their three-day-a-week exercise regimen, supervised by cardiologists and monitored by nurses and exercise physiologists in the Cardiac Rehabilitation gyms on the Baptist Hospital and Mariners Hospital campuses.

The pause proved challenging for these individuals who were working to strengthen their hearts that had been damaged by a heart attack, weakened by congestive heart failure, or that were healing from a heart procedure, such as stent placement, or from cardiac surgery. Fortunately, Cardiac Rehabilitation reopened in June, and these patients have returned to the gyms and their cardiac rehab regimens.

“Supervised exercise for people with cardiovascular disease or heart failure, or who are recovering from a heart attack, intervention or surgery, is key to restoring cardiac function,” said Joshua Harris, M.D., a cardiologist and co-medical director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “Studies have proven that exercise strengthens the heart muscle and is beneficial to preventing future cardiac events.”

Comprehensive Cardiac Rehabilitation

While supervised and monitored exercise is included in most cardiac rehabilitation programs, the American Heart Association, The American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research have found that patients also benefit from nutrition counseling, smoking cessation and other disease prevention education, stress management strategies and tips to minimize side effects and symptoms. They issued guidance on this approach in a paper published last month.

“Our Cardiac Rehabilitation program offers these additional services and is customized for each of our patients,” said Institute Cardiologist Karl Lembcke, M.D., who oversees the program with Dr. Harris. “Our patients benefit from this comprehensive approach, which combines exercise instruction and monitoring with lifestyle and behavior modifications to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.”  

12-week Cardiac Rehab Program

Dr. Lembcke says patients’ cardiac rehab is tailored to their symptoms and condition, but many come to the on-campus gym three days a week for 12 weeks and move through three phases of instruction and education:  

  • Phase 1 – Patients are seen while hospitalized and given information about the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation.
  • Phase 2 – Participants meet with their care team, including nutritionists, nurses and exercise physiologists, who assess their condition, symptoms and goals for rehabilitation. These cardiac rehabilitation patients follow a supervised and monitored exercise regimen, where exercise physiologists and a cardiologist track improvements and adjust exercises accordingly.
  • Phase 3 – Individuals continue to exercise on their own, without monitoring, but with the support and oversight of their care team for a limited time.

Dr. Harris says most patients complete cardiac rehabilitation and graduate after 12 weeks. He notes that Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute’s graduation rate is higher than the national average for rehabilitation programs.

Reducing Cardiovascular Risk

Both Dr. Harris and Dr. Lembcke say there’s no substitute for adopting lifestyle changes to reduce one’s risk of heart disease or a cardiac event.

“Exercise is one component that goes a long way,” Dr. Harris said. “You can’t change your genetic makeup or family or personal history, but you can exercise and improve your lifestyle.”

“Quitting smoking, eating right and reducing stress to help manage body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels go hand-in-hand with exercise to ensuring a successful rehabilitation and adding healthy years on to your life,” Dr. Lembcke added. “It’s great for your heart and your health.”

COVID-19 Safety Precautions    

Cardiac Rehabilitation gyms at Baptist Hospital and Mariners Hospital follow the safety precautions present now at all Baptist Health facilities to keep patients and employees safe. These include enhanced cleaning of shared equipment and socially distanced machinery. We also limit our capacity in the workout areas and require mask use when not vigorously working out. Patients will have their temperature taken upon entering the building and be asked a series of questions to evaluate their risk of illness. Those found to be at risk of illness will be asked to reschedule their workout. To find out more, contact Cardiac Rehabilitation at Baptist Hospital at 786-596-6564 or at Mariners Hospital at 305-434-3632.

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