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February 13, 2008 > Cardiac Rehabilitation is Key to Better Living

Cardiac Rehabilitation is Key to Better Living

Washington Hospital Program Helps Heart Patients Get Back on Their Feet

Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, is the number one cause of death in the United States. For those who have survived a heart attack or other heart problem, cardiac rehabilitation can help you get back on your feet, improve your health, and prevent another heart episode.
Heart disease can take a serious toll on the body. Ask anyone who has had a heart attack or heart surgery. It changes your life forever.
"Cardiac rehabilitation helps heart patients return to the lifestyle they had before their heart episode, whether that means getting back to work or enjoying hobbies again," said Phyllis Fiscella, cardiac rehabilitation manager at Washington Hospital. She is helping raise awareness about the critical need for rehabilitation during national Cardiac Rehabilitation Week, February 10-16. "The combination of exercise, risk management and social interaction improves physical health as well as overall sense of wellbeing."
The goal of cardiac rehabilitation is to stabilize, slow, or even reverse the progression of heart disease and reduce the risk of another cardiac event or death. The focus is on exercise and controlling factors that increase the risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity and stress.
The first phase of rehabilitation at Washington Hospital occurs when the patient is still in the hospital.
"We educate patients about what to expect during recovery," Fiscella said. "We help them understand about managing their risk factors and lifestyle changes they might need to make, like losing weight or eating better."
Once out of the hospital and with a referral from their physicians, patients can start the three-month rehabilitation program. Participants meet for an hour three times a week for exercise, education and support.
With a focus on improving several aspects of fitness, a nurse and exercise physiologist are on hand to monitor and supervise participants. Participants use a variety of stationary equipment such as treadmills and bicycles to improve stamina and endurance. They also use hand weights to increase upper body strength as well as a number of other specific exercises to improve coordination, balance and flexibility.
Social Benefits Improve Health
"The exercise class also serves as a support group and social network for people," Fiscella said. "We have fun and it gets them out of the house. Many of our participants are older and sometimes feel alone and isolated. But when they come here they have people to talk to who understand what they're going through. They have experienced many of the same emotional issues."
Cardiac rehab also teaches participants about their medications - how they work and how to take them properly. Most of the participants require medications to control blood pressure and/or cholesterol.
In addition, participants are encouraged to get the most out of their doctor visits by writing down questions and issues they want to discuss beforehand, and physicians are updated on their patients' progress.
Rehab staff members keep physicians involved in the rehabilitation process by sending monthly written progress reports for each participant and by reporting issues of concern. If urgent issues arise, staff members contact physicians immediately by phone.
"Cardiac rehabilitation offers such life-changing benefits," Fiscella said. "It's important for people with heart disease to tell their doctor they want to participate in the cardiac rehabilitation program."
To learn more about heart disease, visit
For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit

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