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Cardiac rehabilitation: What you can expect when recovering from a cardiac event

Lankenau Medical Center August 11, 2023 Heart Health

If you’ve had a cardiac event, like a heart attack, arrythmia, weak heart muscle or heart valve problems, you know the physical and emotional challenges that come with it. After experiencing heart symptoms, treatment and the accompanying uncertainty and fear, you may be wondering what’s next.

You and your health care provider can take control of your heart health and reduce your risk of future heart problems with a program called cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehabilitation is beneficial for people recovering from a heart attack, angina attack, heart failure, open-heart surgery or a stent procedure.

At Main Line Health, 95% of patients show improvement in functional ability and 100% of patients report overall improvement in their quality of life after completing cardiac rehabilitation.

From diet and exercise to managing stress, here’s what you can expect from cardiac rehabilitation.

Understanding cardiac rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation is run by a team of medical professionals that can include physical therapists, nutritionists, exercise specialists and counselors in addition to your healthcare provider.

Together, this team works to get you safely back on your feet while teaching you how to make heart-healthy lifestyle choices a part of your daily routine.

How long will you receive cardiac rehabilitation?

"A standard cardiac rehabilitation program lasts about three months but can last anywhere from two to eight months depending on your needs. With your healthcare provider, you can determine a plan to improve your independence and move toward a healthier and possibly longer life," says Timothy A. Shapiro, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health.

Where can you do cardiac rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehabilitation sometimes begins while you’re still in the hospital following a cardiac event. After being discharged, you may continue — or begin — your program in an outpatient rehabilitation center.

Cardiac rehabilitation: What’s included — and how it helps you

Cardiac rehabilitation programs have components designed to help you achieve the goal of returning to or achieving an active, heart-healthy lifestyle. This includes:


Although it may be overwhelming to think about exercise after a cardiac event, regular physical activity is vital to your cardiovascular health. It helps strengthen your body and heart while lowering your risk of a future cardiac event.

"Exercise specialists and physical therapists on your cardiac rehabilitation team will teach you how to safely increase your physical activity," says Dr. Shapiro. "You’ll generally start with simple exercises like walking or riding a bike for short periods of time and then gradually increase the duration and intensity."

Your cardiac rehabilitation team will also help you safely resume daily activities like climbing stairs and grocery shopping, if appropriate.


A nutritionist can teach you how to adjust your diet to support your heart’s recovery. They’ll work with you on how to incorporate foods that are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals into your diet. They can also help you avoid foods that are high in cholesterol, as these increase your heart disease risk. Eating a heart-healthy diet is one of the best ways to lower your risk of heart disease.

You’ll also learn how risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes impact your heart’s health. Your cardiac rehabilitation team can help you adopt healthy habits like quitting smoking and ensure that you are taking your medication(s) as prescribed.


Reducing stress and anxiety in your life can lower your risk of further heart problems. Counseling can also help you cope with these aspects of life, including helping you manage depression.

Improve your heart’s future with cardiac rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation reduces your risk of further heart problems following a cardiac event. By supporting your physical, educational and emotional needs, a cardiac rehabilitation program is a great way to ensure that you feel capable and confident while taking charge of your cardiac health.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Timothy A. Shapiro, MD
Learn about heart and vascular care at Main Line Health
Myke’s bold goal: From heart attack to half marathon