Skip to main content

Health Encyclopedia

Search the Health Encyclopedia

Cardiac rehabilitation


Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) is a program that helps you live better with heart disease. It is often prescribed to help you recover from a heart attack, heart surgery, or other procedures.

These programs most often include both education and exercise. The goal of cardiac rehab is to:

  • Improve your cardiovascular function
  • Improve your overall health and quality of life
  • Reduce symptoms
  • Reduce your risk of future heart problems

Alternative Names

Cardiac rehab; Heart attack - cardiac rehab; Coronary heart disease - cardiac rehab; Coronary artery disease - cardiac rehab; Angina - cardiac rehab; Heart failure - cardiac rehab

Who Needs Rehab

Cardiac rehab can help anyone who has had a heart attack or other heart problem. You might consider cardiac rehab if you have had:

In some cases, your health care provider may refer you to rehab if you have had a heart attack or heart surgery. If your provider does not mention rehab, you can ask if it might help you.

Benefits of Cardiac Rehab

Cardiac rehab may help you:

  • Improve your quality of life
  • Lower your risk of having a heart attack or another heart attack
  • Perform your daily tasks more easily
  • Increase your activity level and improve your fitness
  • Learn how to eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Lose weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Improve blood sugar control
  • Reduce stress
  • Lower your risk of dying from a heart condition
  • Stay independent

What to Expect

You will work with a rehab team that may include many kinds of medical professionals including:

  • Heart doctors
  • Nurses
  • Dieticians
  • Physical therapists
  • Exercise specialists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Mental health specialists

Your rehab team will design a program that is safe for you. Before you start, the team will assess your overall health. A health care provider will do an exam and may ask you questions about your health and medical history. You may also have some tests to check your heart.

Most rehab programs last from three to six months. Your program may be longer or shorter depending on your condition.

Most rehab programs cover several different areas:

  • Exercise. Regular exercise helps strengthen your heart and improve your overall health. During your sessions you may start with about a 5-minute warm-up followed by about 20 minutes of aerobics. The goal is to get to about 70% to 80 % of your maximum heart rate. You will then cool down for about 5 to 15 minutes. You may also may do some light weightlifting or use weight machines as part of your routine. At first, your team will monitor your heart while you are exercising. You will start slowly, and increase your physical activity over time. Your rehab team may also suggest you do other activities, such as walking or yard work, on days you are not at the program.
  • Healthy eating. Your team will help you learn how to make healthy food choices. They can help you plan a diet to help manage health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.
  • Education. Your rehab team will teach you other ways to stay healthy, such as quitting smoking. If you have a health condition, such as diabetes, CHD, or high blood pressure, your rehab team will teach you how to manage it.
  • Support. Your rehab team will help support you in making these lifestyle changes. They can also help you cope with anxiety or depression.

Choosing a Program

If you are in the hospital, your rehab program may start while you are there. Once you go home, you will likely go to a rehab center in your area. It might be in:

  • The hospital
  • A skilled nursing faculty
  • Another location

Your provider may refer you to a rehab center, or you might need to choose one yourself. When choosing a rehab center, keep a few things in mind:

  • Is the center close to your home?
  • Is the program at a time that is good for you?
  • Can you get to the center easily?
  • Does the program have the services you need?
  • Is the program covered by your insurance?

If you cannot get to a rehab center, you may have a form of rehab you do in your home.


Anderson L, Taylor RS. Cardiac rehabilitation for people with heart disease: an overview of Cochrane systematic reviews. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;12:CD011273. PMID: 25503364

Balady GJ, Williams MA, Ades PA, et al. Core components of cardiac rehabilitation/secondary prevention programs: 2007 Update: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association and AACVPR. J Cardiopulm Rehabil Prev. 2007;27:121-129. PMID: 17558191

LD Hillis, PK Smith, JL Anderson, et al. 2011 ACCF/AHA guideline for coronary artery bypass graft surgery: executive summary: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;123-210. PMID: 22070836

Thompson PD. Exercise-based, comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 47.

Review Date:2/24/2016
Reviewed By:Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

The Agency for Health Care Administration (Agency) and this website do not claim the information on, or referred to by, this site is error free. This site may include links to websites of other government agencies or private groups. Our Agency and this website do not control such sites and are not responsible for their content. Reference to or links to any other group, product, service, or information does not mean our Agency or this website approves of that group, product, service, or information.

Additionally, while health information provided through this website may be a valuable resource for the public, it is not designed to offer medical advice. Talk with your doctor about medical care questions you may have.

We Appreciate Your Feedback!
1. Did you find this information useful?
2. Would you recommend this website to family and friends?