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Helping the Heart Through Cardiac Rehab

A rehabilitation program often can help heart patients live better with their disease and recover from medical procedures like surgery and angioplasty.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, cardiac rehab services are comprehensive (thorough) and long-term. They include a medical evaluation; exercise under a doctor's supervision; modification of cardiac risk factors; and education, counseling, and behavior modification.

Only a small percentage of the millions of cardiovascular patients, however, get the supervised exercise, stress management, and lifestyle adjustments that can help them recover.

Talk with your doctor

If you are being treated for heart disease, talk with your doctor about how a cardiac rehab program could aid your recovery. Your health care provider can help you devise a program that's right for you, according to your specific needs and health coverage benefits.

Getting worked up over a traffic jam or flying off the handle at a co-worker can put some patients at greater risk of a second heart attack. Talk therapy, biofeedback, and meditation can teach relaxation instead of allowing tempers and heart problems to erupt.

The major components of any cardiac rehabilitation program should include the following:

Smoking cessation

Whatever you need to quit smoking--from wearing a nicotine patch to undergoing hypnosis--do it to quit this habit, says the American Heart Association. You should also avoid exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke since it can also increase your risk of another heart attack. 

Blood pressure control

Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Blood pressure that is 120 to 139 for the top number (systolic reading) or 80 to 89 (diastolic) for the bottom number on two or more occasions is considered pre-hypertension, meaning there is a risk for developing hypertension. High blood pressure is when your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher (for either number) on three or more different occasions. Have your blood pressure checked regularly. In most cases, more than one medication may be needed to keep blood pressure under control. Make sure you and your doctor keep track of what you need to do to stay within healthy blood pressure levels.

Cholesterol checks

Your total cholesterol should be kept under 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Your low-density lipoprotein, or LDL ("bad") cholesterol, should be kept below 100 mg/dL. Some people at high risk for heart disease or who have had prior heart attacks may be advised to keep their LDL below 70 mg/dL. Diet, exercise, and medication can help control cholesterol levels.

Exercise

You should accumulate 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. It doesn't have to be 30 minutes at once; you can break it up into three 10-minute sessions. Follow your health care provider's advice on the intensity of your workout.

Diet

You should follow a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and mackerel.

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