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Erica Hein can’t even list all of the changes she has seen in cardiac rehabilitation over 20 years.

“When I began to work with heart patients in the early 1990s, the exercise program mainly consisted of walking on the treadmill and riding a stationary bicycle. Now the heart patients use cross trainers, stair climbers, weights and participate in aerobics classes,” said Hein, fitness facility supervisor at Community's Fitness Pointe in Munster.

Hein said this because of the modernization of medicine as well as new technology.

“Over the years, I have seen more procedures are done minimally invasive such as going through the arteries in the arm to perform angioplasties and insert stents and repair or replace heart valves. The chest wall doesn’t have to be opened as much with these new advances,” said Hein, who has been with Community Hospital for 20 years. “More people are having angioplasties and stents as opposed to bypass surgery.”

Cardiac rehabilitation is generally made up of three to four phases depending on the hospital’s program, according to Hein.

Phase one is during the hospital stay following a heart event or procedure.

“The individual is walked in the hallways and monitored by the cardiac rehab staff for changes in blood pressure, heart rate or heart rhythm and any symptoms. This would occur for any heart patient regardless of physical condition prior to coming to the hospital,” Hein said.

She said after being discharged from the hospital, the individual can participate in phase two of cardiac rehabilitation as an outpatient for a pre-set number of sessions based on his or her medical and physical condition.

“This program is ordered by a doctor and depending upon the physical condition of the individual, the progression can vary. Generally, individuals are started out slow, but people that have been exercising regularly will progress faster. Research has shown that fit individuals are more likely to survive a heart attack and will recover quicker than a non-exerciser,” Hein said.

Jane Bogordos, exercise physiologist and supervisor of wellness at Franciscan Health Fitness Centers Schererville, said there are a couple of things a patient recovering from a heart event or procedure should do before embarking on an exercise program.

“The first thing a patient should do before they start anything is check with their doctor. Some people are on medications and that can affect the way they exercise,” Bogordos said.

Bogordos recommends following the American Heart Association’s guidelines, which is 150 minutes of exercise per week. She also said it’s a good idea for patients to monitor their heart rate and blood pressure pre- and post-exercise.

“Aerobic exercise is the best thing you can do to heal and mend from a cardiac event. It also reduces the chances of getting further cardiovascular disease,” Bogordos said. “It’s important to start off slow. The best thing to do if you’re at a facility is to seek out a fitness staff person. They can give you a range of where you want your heart rate to be.”

For more heart health information, visit www.heart.org

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Features Editor