A smiling resident lifting a small dumbbell with assistance from a physical therapist.

The Four Phases of Cardiac Rehabilitation

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 800,000 people in the United States experience a heart attack each year. Additionally, about one in four of those people have had previous heart attacks. Once a heart attack happens, it requires patience, persistence and time for the patient to recover. However, remaining committed to a program to rebuild your life after a heart attack can be emotionally and physically draining.

Cardiac rehabilitation is a program designed to support patients and their families through this long, emotional process to help them endure and succeed. When considering the right program to follow after a heart attack, it helps to understand the four phases of cardiac rehabilitation, the goals behind cardiac rehabilitation and what you can reasonably expect from the program overall.

What are the Four Phases of Cardiac Rehabilitation?

The American Heart Association defines cardiac rehab as a medically designed and supervised program committed to improving the patient’s cardiovascular health following a heart attack or heart surgery. There are four phases of cardiac rehabilitation. The first phase begins in the hospital during your inpatient care and the other three take place at a rehab center or at your home. While the path to recovery and the time it takes to make progress varies from patient to patient, these four stages are standard for all patients recovering from a cardiac event. The four phases of cardiac rehabilitation are as follows:

The Acute Phase

This is the first phase of cardiac rehabilitation, and it begins as soon as you are medically stable after your cardiac event. At the hospital, an acute care physical therapist will partner with your care team of doctors, nurses and rehab professionals to help you regain your mobility. This may look slightly different from patient to patient, based on the cardiac event. In this initial phase, cardiac therapists will:

  • Gain an understanding of the impact of your cardiac event on your mobility and basic functioning.
  • Help your care team to plan your discharge from the hospital.
  • Support you and your family by providing education about your condition and the path ahead during rehabilitation.
  • Assign exercises that are safe for your condition to help improve cardiac fitness and overall mobility.
  • Draw attention to any risk factors in your health or lifestyle that may lead to future cardiac events.
  • Help to secure an assistive device, such as a walker or a cane, to help ensure your safety.

Once you have healed and are safe to move forward, you will be discharged to leave the hospital and to begin phase two cardiac rehab.

The Subacute Phase

After leaving the hospital, phase two cardiac rehabilitation begins. For most patients, this phase lasts between three and six weeks and involves the continued monitoring of your cardiac responses at an outpatient facility. During phase two cardiac rehabilitation, you will also receive education about the right kind of exercises to strengthen your heart and how to self-monitor your heart rate and exertion levels. This phase of rehab primarily centers around safely returning you to functional mobility while monitoring your heart rate. Near the end of phase two, you should be ready to exercise and conduct activities independently.

Intensive Outpatient Therapy

During the third phase of cardiac rehab, you will exercise without supervision, either independently or with a group. Once you can monitor both your heart rate and your symptomatic response to exercise, your physical therapist will monitor your progress and be on the lookout for any potentially negative changes that could occur during this phase. As you continue to become more independent, your cardiac team will create a program for you that focuses on:

  • Strengthening exercises
  • Aerobic exercises
  • Flexibility

Independent Ongoing Conditioning

The final phase of the four phases of cardiac rehabilitation mainly focuses on your ongoing conditioning and your independent exercise program. Your personal risk factors and the strategies to maintain your optimal health will be addressed during this phase. Members of your care and/or therapy team will encourage you to maintain optimal health and prevent future potential cardiac events by maintaining an exercise routine and achieving your own level of optimal physical wellness.

What are the Goals of Cardiac Rehabilitation?

The CDC encourages any patient who has experienced a heart event, such as heart surgery or a heart attack, to seek cardiac rehabilitation. The goals of cardiac rehabilitation are designed to achieve the best outcome for the patient, both short term and long term. These benefits include:

  • Relieving symptoms of heart problems
  • Strengthening the heart after a cardiac event
  • Increasing energy and strength to make daily activities easier
  • Reducing stress
  • Improving mood and lessening the risk of depression
  • Building healthy habits
  • Setting up healthy routines, such as taking prescribed medication
  • Preventing future cardiac events

Recover and Renew

Choosing the environment where you recover from a cardiac event is a personal and important decision. Your care team should educate you and keep you informed about your options, as well as the best path to achieving your strength and mobility.

At Monterey Park Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, we are able to integrate the care of therapists and physicians to help patients recover their independence. Whether you are going through the cardiac rehabilitation phases or recovering from a different illness or surgery, we create an individualized rehabilitation and recovery plan that is carried out by a committed care team and licensed health care professionals. Connect with us today to learn more.