Published on September 08, 2016

Getting back in shape after a heart attack

A heart attack affects more than just the heart muscle. Emotions, self-confidence and plans for the future can all take a beating in the days and weeks following this traumatic event. Here are a few guidelines for moving forward and making the transition back to a heart-healthy life.

Make the most of your cardiac rehab program. Cardiac rehab at Gundersen Health System is designed for patients with heart disease who have had a heart attack, angioplasty, bypass or valve surgery, angina or other heart problems.

"Using a medically supervised, customized exercise program, cardiac rehab at Gundersen helps our patients improve strength, exercise tolerance, heart function, overall health and quality of life," reports exercise physiologist Shannon Riley. "Cardiac rehab is associated with a significant reduction in future cardiovascular events and has been shown to slow the progression or reduce the severity of coronary artery disease."

Participants also receive education and counseling on topics such as:

  • Nutrition and good eating habits
  • Risk factor modification such as weight, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol
  • Importance of emotional well-being and stress management
  • Medications and following the prescribed medical regimen

You are also given tools to continue a healthy lifestyle after graduation. You can also join our medically supervised Movin' and Improvin' program which can be a lifelong exercise program or a short-term fitness extension.

Understand what went wrong and what you can do about it. "Knowing what contributed to your heart problem—high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, weight, poor diet, lack of activity—will help you take steps to improve these risk factors," encourages Shannon. "We have several programs to help you."

Plan your physical activity schedule each week. In addition to your cardiac rehab appointments, keep up with other doctor-approved exercises, such as walking, swimming, biking or yoga. Vary your activities to keep you interested and motivated to stick with it. Try to exercise about the same time each day. This will help establish a habit and also reduce the impact that the timing of medication or meals might have on your physical activity.

Walk, walk and walk some more. Walking is such good exercise because it uses muscles in your legs, abdominal, back and arms. You can also adjust the speed and intensity of your walk as you progress.

Be safe. In the early weeks of rehab, stay close to home when you go for a walk, or walk with a friend. Carry a cell phone for any emergencies. Shannon cautions, "Remember, if at any times you experience shortness of breath, chest discomfort or increasing fatigue, stop exercising and contact your doctor right away."

Copyright 2016 © Baldwin Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

Share Your Story