Topic Overview

Exercise is an important part of a cardiac rehabilitation program. Combining
exercise with other lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet and
stopping smoking, reduces the risk of future heart problems.

What kinds of exercise will you do?

Riding a stationary bike,
walking on a treadmill, and resistance training (working with weights) are
types of exercise you may do during cardiac rehabilitation (rehab).

You will likely do aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises. During
recovery and then rehab, your exercise program will be specifically
designed for you. It might progress from a supervised program monitored
by an exercise physiologist or other qualified professional to an independent,
self-managed program.

You will be taught to check how hard you are
working when you exercise. You will be taught to check your heart rate or your
exercise level known as a rating of perceived exertion (RPE). It is important
to keep your heart rate from getting too high. Your doctor will tell you how
fast your heart rate should be with exercise. Self-monitoring is often used
during the last stage of a rehab program, when you continue your cardiac rehab
on your own without close supervision.

What are the benefits?

Everyone can benefit from exercise. But if you have some type of heart problem, the benefits of exercise will
be even greater than for most people. Cardiac rehab programs are designed to
restore and help you keep your physical function. Whether your goal is to return to
work as soon as possible, live a more active lifestyle, or achieve a level of
independence to increase the quality of your life, exercise must be a regular
part of your routine.

You can benefit from exercise
whether you exercise at a high intensity for just a short time or at a low
intensity for a longer period of time. If, for example, you are a person who
finds exercising difficult, you still can obtain the benefits of regular
exercise simply by walking.

Cardiac rehab exercises can:

  • Lower your risk of dying of heart
  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Improve your
    cholesterol levels.
  • Help you control
    your diabetes.
  • Make your angina symptoms less severe and happen less
  • Reduce your symptoms of heart failure.
  • Help
    you lose weight or stay at a healthy weight.

Exercise can also improve your quality of life, endurance,
and muscle strength. After a few months of exercise in a cardiac rehab program,
you can increase your ability to exercise. Your daily activities (such as
carrying groceries) will be easier to do. You may also have an
improved sense of wellness, because exercise can help alleviate depression,
stress, and anxiety.

Benefits of aerobic exercise for your heart

Your heart is a muscle with fibers that allow it to contract and
pump blood. Like other muscles in your body, your heart will respond to
exercise. When a muscle is used during exercise, the fibers inside it become
stronger and more efficient. Increasing your heart rate during aerobic exercise
not only strengthens the heart itself but also helps more blood circulate
through your body. Blood contains oxygen and nutrients that increase the health
and efficiency of many of your body’s important systems.

Other benefits of aerobic exercise

There are many other physical and mental benefits of aerobic
exercise for cardiac rehab.

  • Physical benefits:
    • Increases aerobic ability (the ability of
      your body to use oxygen)
    • Increases lung volume and the lungs’
      ability to take in oxygen
    • Reduces the demands on your heart both at
      rest and during exercise
    • Lowers blood pressure
    • Can
      reduce your proportion of body fat
  • Mental benefits:
    • Reduces anxiety
    • Helps improve
      mild to moderate depression
    • Helps improve mood, self-esteem, and

What about functional benefits?

Exercise also has specific benefits for your body’s functions,
including increased:

  • Size and strength of your muscles.
  • Efficiency of your muscles to use nutrients and oxygen.
  • Ability of
    your lungs to provide oxygen to your bloodstream.
  • Ability of your
    body to transport oxygen to the working muscles and organs.
  • Strength and efficiency of the heart (increases the amount of blood pumped per

Benefits of strength training

Strength training has many benefits for
you during your recovery and rehabilitation.

  • When you have more muscle, your body burns
    energy faster. This faster energy burn can help you manage your
  • Strength training can decrease the demands on your heart
    when you do daily activities such as lifting.
  • Strength training
    can help improve your stability and reduce your chance of falling.
  • Strength training can help increase your bone density and make your
    bones stronger, especially if you are older.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC – Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Martin J. Gabica, MD – Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Richard D. Zorowitz, MD – Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Current as ofOctober 5, 2017