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Cardiac Rehab: A Life-Saving Therapy

Cardiac Rehab: A Life-Saving Therapy

In the 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a villager (John Cleese) tries to find a place on the dead collector’s (Eric Idle) wagon for the body of an old man. That’s when the old guy proclaims, “But I’m not dead yet.” That’s the same happy declaration that tens of thousands of cardiac patients in the UK can make today.

That’s because the UK leads the world in the number of folks who take advantage of cardiac rehabilitation programs. There, 50 percent of people who’ve had a cardiac event sign up for this life-saving therapy. In the U.S.? Only about 20 percent do.

The American Heart Association says patients who enroll in cardiac rehab within six months of a heart attack dramatically reduce their risk of dying in the next year. And if they enroll within six to 12 months, it’ll reduce the chance of hospital re-admission by 31 percent.  

So why don’t folks take advantage of cardiac rehab programs? Some blame the insurance industry, which doesn’t always offer 100 percent coverage. Others blame their doctors. One study found only 56 percent of heart patients were referred for cardiac therapy!

Cardiac rehab involves a team of specialists (a psychologist, doctor, nurse, exercise therapist, and dietitian or nutritionist) who help you achieve a safe level of physical activity, adopt a heart-healthy diet and stick to your medication regimen. There are both intermediate and intensive rehab programs, like Undo It from Dr. Dean Ornish.

Medically reviewed in May 2018.

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