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Rehabilitation is a critical part of the recovery process. It takes many forms – from the first short walks along hospital corridors following surgery, to cautious steps outdoors after returning home, to full scale setups managed and operated through hospital programs. If such a program exists in your area, ask your doctor/cardiologist to refer you to it. Because of the demand, it might take a while to be accepted into a rehab program.
In the meantime, there are many common-sense approaches to cardio-rehab – but it is important to get your doctor/cardiologist to give the okay to your approach.

"Rehab is very important. The program I got into dealt with many aspects of recovery including diet and medications. But before I could get into the physical part of the program I had to have a stress test and clearance from my cardiologist and family doctor. I had a choice of walking on the track, using a bicycle or a treadmill, and I was monitored constantly for heart rate and blood pressure to make sure it was okay for the pace I was walking. I went for a whole year, with the workouts increasing gradually. By the end of the year I was doing pretty well and feeling great."

"I didn’t get into a rehab program because the closest one was too far away, especially in the winter. But I was lucky when I was in the hospital to have a volunteer who’d had heart surgery tell me the importance of exercise, especially walking. Once I was able to be up and out of the house after my surgery, I was at the local mall walking every day doing as many kilometers as I could. I kept my doctor up-to-date on what I was doing."

"I didn’t know there was such a thing as rehab programs until two years after my operation. I guess they’re sometimes so busy in the hospitals that things like that get overlooked."

"I didn’t know about rehab programs so I just followed the guide lines I’d been given when I left the hospital. Sensible walking, increasing it gradually, building up my stamina. Then I added cycling and now, four years after my surgery, I managed over 2000k during the summer, making sure I don’t overdo it on hills. In the winter I go to the YMCA gym and work on the treadmill and stationary bike and do weights that don’t impact on my incision. I can’t stress how important it is to keep exercise up. You know, it’s all part of that lifestyle change that’s an essential part of cardiac recovery."

"Rehab is invaluable. Absolutely. I started a mild form of rehab a few days after I came home. Walking across the living room was tough, walking across the deck as well. Then I graduated to the garden, walking on the grass. We’re very lucky to have a beautiful waterfront in Cobourg so my husband would drive me there and we’d have lunch at picnic table and then I’d take a little stroll which might have been 10 or 15 feet, which was all I could manage at the time. The strolls got longer and longer until eventually I could do the whole boardwalk, which is about half a mile there and back."

"I didn’t know anything about rehab programs until I went to the support group, but I’d already gone to the YMCA to get a personal fitness program. The thing is, your body can tell you if you’re overdoing it and you have to use common sense and listen to it. Exercise though, is so important for a healthy recovery and so is expert guidance."

"It’s very, very important. What I knew before the surgery was one thing; but what I needed to know after the surgery, knowing my physical condition, was another. I went to a program in Peterborough and every aspect of recovery was covered. We had 12 educational sessions with a model of the heart and we were shown what happened to us. There were nutritional sessions, one about stress, about exercise. Every aspect of recovery was covered. It’s a must."

"So much seems to depend on where you live, whether there’s a rehab program in your area and, most importantly, if your cardiologist or GP is tuned in to the rehabilitation aspect of cardiac recovery. Not all of them are. It’s the same with hospitals. It seems that some send you home with a minimal amount of information and you have to search it out for yourself. Looking out for yourself, asking questions, is so important in all aspects of recovery – making sure the doctors, cardiologists listen to you; not just listen but hear what you’re saying. Don’t leave their office until you have the answers. It’s your life, after all."

"One thing the hospital impressed on me was not to exercise outdoors when the combined temperature and wind-chill is below –10 Celsius. And when I’m walking outdoors in the cold to make sure I’m dressed in layers, which traps warm air between. the layers. It’s the same in the summer heat. Exercise in the morning, the coolest part of the day, and avoid exercise outdoors when the Humidex is over 30 Celsius."

"One of the positive things about exercise, be it walking, cycling, working out at the gym, aside from the physical benefits, is the feeling of well-being that comes with it. Walking or riding on your bike really does connect you with the world around you, gives you this terrific feeling of accomplishment. It’s a win-win proposition."