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A second chance: Survived a heart attack? Now turn your life around!

If you have lived through a heart attack, you may feel as though you’ve been given a new lease on life. And you probably need to make some lifestyle changes, although you may not be sure exactly what they are.

This is where cardiac rehabilitation comes in. Cardiac rehabilitation gives you the knowledge and tools to take charge of your heart and your health—both to speed recovery and prevent another heart attack.

Exercise is a big part of any cardiac rehabilitation program. Studies show that as your physical activity level increases, your risk of death from cardiovascular disease drops correspondingly. But don’t worry: You’ll start slowly and be closely monitored during your workouts. You’ll probably use machines such as a treadmill, a stationary bike and a rowing machine and, eventually, weights and machines for strength training. You’ll learn which exercises are safest for you. And you’ll find that as your heart gets stronger, you’ll be able to exercise longer and more intensely.

Reducing risk factors

Since exercise alone won’t get you in the best shape possible, you’ll receive instruction on how to reduce or eliminate other coronary risk factors. Cigarette smoking is a major contributor to heart disease, so you’ll get help quitting in the form of counseling, a nicotine patch or other medications if you smoke. Obesity contributes to heart disease, too; sessions with a nutritionist will put you on the path to a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol. And if you’re suffering from depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction or stress, psychological counseling can help alleviate these problems.

Having a heart attack is frightening, and you may feel a bit alone. If so, cardiac rehabilitation offers the camaraderie of others who’ve been through the same thing. Joining a rehabilitation program that includes group exercise and risk-modification instruction can make a positive difference in your goal of leading a healthy lifestyle—and you might make some new friends in the process.

Throughout your cardiac rehabilitation program you’ll receive guidance and support from physicians, nurses, nutritionists and exercise physiologists. However, a quality rehabilitation program ultimately provides you with the know-how and determination to live your life in the healthiest way possible.

Recovery myths and facts

Do you know the right steps to take when it comes to recovering from a heart attack? See if you can separate the myths from facts below when it comes to cardiac rehabilitation.

  • The best way to prevent a second heart attack is to follow a self-imposed regimen of curtailed activities.

    Myth. Never develop an exercise regimen without the help of your physician or exercise physiologist. One of the best ways to prevent another heart attack is through a cardiac rehabilitation program in which trained professionals help you follow a safe, effective exercise program that gradually builds your strength and reduces your risk of future cardiovascular disease. These professionals also monitor your heart rate and blood pressure regularly.

  • You should exercise vigorously immediately after a heart attack—your heart needs the workout.

    Myth. Exercising too vigorously can actually increase your risk of another heart attack. Consult your doctor and other trained professionals to begin a physical fitness program that gradually increases your endurance and muscular strength.

  • Making changes in your diet, exercise and smoking habits can have a significant impact on your health and lower the risk of another heart attack.

    Fact. Good health and prevention of heart attack recurrence involves a combination of exercise, nutrition, mental health and smoking cessation. Talk with your doctor about developing healthy lifestyle habits.

Make your health a priority

If you need more reason to enter a cardiac rehabilitation program, consider this: Survivors of the acute stage of a heart attack are at substantially greater risk of another heart attack, sudden death, angina pectoris (chest pain), heart failure and stroke than the general population. Within a year after a recognized heart attack or stroke, 14 percent of survivors will experience a second attack.