Fighting heart disease goes beyond prevention

Of the roughly 915,000 Americans who have had a heart attack, more than 30 percent will have a second one. According to the American Heart Association, many of these subsequent cardiac events are preventable with the benefit of a cardiac rehabilitation program that utilizes exercise training and healthy living education. However, few people with heart disease participate in such programs.

The American Heart Association has found that only about 14 to 35 percent of eligible heart attack survivors enter into a cardiac rehabilitation program. February 12-18 is National Cardiac Rehabilitation Week, when cardiovascular rehabilitation professionals who help reduce the potentially devastating effects of heart disease are recognized. Initiated by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR), the week coincides with both Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month in an effort to draw greater national attention to heart health and raise awareness about the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation programs.

“Fighting one of the biggest killers in our nation goes beyond just knowing how to prevent heart disease. Many people who already have it are missing out on important, life-saving programs,” said Margy Cornutt, rehab director at Rehab First in Gadsden. “Unfortunately, some people are not informed about what is available for them.”

Cardiac rehabilitation programs differ from regular exercise programs because they are geared toward supporting sustainable lifestyle changes that reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Basic components of qualified cardiac rehabilitation programs include physician-prescribed exercise, diet planning, cardiac risk factor modification, psychosocial assessment, outcomes assessment, and individualized treatment plans

“You should consult your doctor before starting any physical exercise program. However, the combination of a personalized and monitored exercise program and the help of dieticians really helps patients get back on the road to health,” Cornutt said.

Improving the chances

It’s been proven that cardiac rehabilitation works to not only prevent more heart attacks but to save lives. The American Heart Association reports that people who participate in a cardiac rehab program have a 20 to 30 percent lower rate of mortality and higher quality of life scores. Despite the benefits, participation remains below half. Some reasons that participation rates in cardiac rehabilitation programs are low include lack of referral or endorsement from a patient’s doctor, limited or no health insurance coverage, conflicts with work or home duties, or lack of availability and access in the patient’s area.

At times, it’s their personal reservations that are the hurdles for a patient to overcome. Often, by the time some patients get to cardiac rehab, they’ve seen several doctors, started taking new medications and may be afraid to exercise. They may even believe that staying home and taking it easy is their best option.

“At Rehab First, we use an interdisciplinary and highly personalized approach to help heart patients reach their goals and learn to get their lives back,” Cornutt said. “Having heart disease can be scary, but rehab is where you get moving again and learn to take control of your heart disease so it doesn’t take control of you.”