Getting Fit And Recovering After a Heart Attack

At DMC’s Cardiac Rehab Program, heart patients are realizing they can slowly but surely improve their fitness and strengthen their hearts

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etting physically active after a heart attack can be a scary thought. Laying low might seem like your safest bet, but with your doctor's clearance, getting active could be the best thing you can do for your health.

That's where cardiac rehabilitation comes in. It's a medically supervised program that helps heart patients get back to their daily lives and improve their overall health.

At the Detroit Medical Center, well-established cardiac rehab programs at Huron Valley Sinai Hospital in Commerce and Sinai Grace Hospital in Detroit have been serving people for years. Now the DMC is offering the program at its main campus in Detroit as part of the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, conveniently located next to the new DMC Heart Hospital.

Cardiac rehab helps people who have had a heart attack, heart surgery, a heart or lung transplant or other cardiac event or condition. It aims to improve patients' overall risk of heart-related problems in the future, decrease their pain and improve their overall health through exercise and education.

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“We're that next step for someone after their procedure,” says Craig DeLeon, DMC's corporate director of health and wellness. “Patients are very tentative about doing anything after a cardiac event. That's where that education piece comes in.”

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America, DeLeon says, and an increasing cause of death for women.

“It's a very prevalent disease that we have-not just in America but specifically in the Detroit area,” DeLeon says, pointing out the importance of cardiac rehab programs. “It's a solution to that problem.”

The program at DMC's main campus has been operating since late March and is located in the 26,000-square-foot DMC Fitness Center, a newer building featuring an indoor track, a full line of strength and cardiovascular equipment, two group exercise programs, education meeting rooms and locker room facilities.

The first phase of DMC's cardiac rehab program is completed in the inpatient setting and includes monitored exercise, nutritional counseling, emotional support and education about heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Personalized performance measures must be met before discharge.

“It may be something like they need to be able to take 50 consecutive steps without shortness of breath and without pain in their chest,” he says.

The second phase takes place at home, where patients work on an exercise plan and are monitored to see how exercise affects their heart.

“The patient is hooked up to a telemetry device, which sends information back and our exercise specialists can view their heart rhythms while they're doing certain exercises,” DeLeon explains.

The third phase is a maintenance program for heart patients that focuses on reinforcing positive heart-healthy habits, and phase four is a patient's general exercise program that can be completed at home or at the gym independently.

“With each phase there's less medical guidance and intervention and there's more freedom that the patient has,” he says. “The goal in phase three and four is to put to use what you've learned in phase one and two.”

The benefits of cardiac rehabilitation go beyond the physical aspect, DeLeon says. The program also addresses things like overcoming the fear of getting active, quitting smoking, changing eating habits or making exercise part of your daily routine.

“It's not just that they come in and walk on a treadmill or ride a bike. There's a lot of education that goes into it,” he says. The focus is long-term recovery-something that the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan has always emphasized.

“We've made a name for ourselves in the rehab business. We're very accustomed to working with people and their recovery after their injury long-term, setting them up for long-term success.”

People are referred to DMC's cardiac rehab program from the hospital and also through primary care doctors and cardiologists. One patient was recently referred from another hospital because it's closer to his job. While physicians write the script, it's usually up to the patient to take the next step.

“It's an optional service, but it's a very necessary service for someone who has undergone a cardiac event to ensure that they're able to carry on and perform the things that they would like to do in their daily routines, whether it's going back to work or playing with your grandkids,” DeLeon says. “If our heart isn't working at full capacity, our bodies aren't able to do the things that we want it to do.”

To learn more about DMC's cardiac rehabilitation program, visit RIMRehab.org. You can reach the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan location at 313-745-9748.

Tips  for getting active after a cardiac event

1. Get your doctor's OK

First and foremost, talk with your doctor about any restrictions on your exercise. “Absolutely the most important thing is to have that discussion with your physician to ensure that you are cleared for physical activity,” DeLeon says.

2. Start with walking

For many people, the easiest way to start getting more active is by simply walking. “The great thing about walking is it's free. You don't have to have a membership to a gym," DeLeon says. "You just need a comfortable pair of shoes and somewhere safe to walk.”

3. Increase your activity slowly

Work up slowly to the goal of 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity at least three times a week. That might include short periods of activity multiple times a day. Go at your own pace.

4. Consider a heart rate monitor

These are available on many phones and are a great way to make sure you're staying within a certain heart range, DeLeon says.

5. Do the things you enjoy

You're more likely to follow through on your activity goals if it's something you enjoy, like bowling, dancing, gardening or riding a bike. “Do the things that you enjoy doing,” DeLeon says.

6. Don't let fear stop you

“A long time ago, after a cardiac event, you would be put in a bed and you'd stay there. But what we've learned is our heart is a muscle and, just like every other muscle in our body, when we use them they become stronger and able to do more things,” DeLeon says. By exercising, “you're training your heart and you're making that heart muscle strong,” he adds.

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