Cardiac rehabilitation is a well-established part of the management of individuals in the period after a heart attack or similar event, or after a cardiac diagnosis. It is based on the simple premise that the heart is a muscle that needs to be re-conditioned after it has been injured or stressed.
Cardiac rehabilitation can reduce the likelihood of hospital readmission, reduce the risk of further events including death, and improve quality of life. Whilst the basis of this is via the re-training of the heart via exercise prescription, the scope of programmes is much broader than this. Programmes include lifestyle education and behavioural change, as well as assistance to overcome the mental challenges that come after a cardiac diagnosis.
Irrespective of diagnosis, cardiac rehabilitation has been shown to improve survival rates. A cohort study of over 35,000 Dutch patients, of whom just over 30% undertook cardiac rehabilitation showed a substantial survival benefit in the rehab group out to 4 years – the duration of the study. The death-rate was three-times lower in the group that underwent rehabilitation when compared to the group that didn’t. Similar benefits have been shown in studies in North America – including survival benefits out to 10 years in one study. While there may be some groups, like all exercise based-interventions, who are poor- or non-responders, survival rates appear to be the most reliably improved statistic across multiple studies.
Yet it’s not all about living longer – it’s about living ‘better.’ Whilst not shown as consistently as the survival benefits, cardiac rehab has repeatedly been shown to reduce hospital re-admission rates and improve physical fitness. The latter is associated with improved quality of life, which makes sense - being fitter allows you to do more of what you love.
If you're interested in reading more, some of the studies and articles we have discussed are referenced below.