Dear Nurse Chris: After a heart attack two years ago, I took all the medicines my physician asked, but he also wanted me to commit to a long period of rehab. It seemed way too strenuous for me, and I was scared it might cause another attack so I didn’t go. I am 56 now. Was I right or wrong to skip the rehab? Emily in Grayslake
Dear Emily: You took a big risk, and be sure to check with your cardiologist about this. Here’s what one study says: People who get all 36 sessions of cardiac rehabilitation that most Medicare plans cover are less likely to die or suffer a heart attack in the next three to four years than people who have fewer sessions.
You’re younger than that group, but if your insurance covers it, make use of the treatment.
If anyone pays attention, which they should, this research could encourage heart patients who don't follow doctors' orders to heed their advice. Only about one-fifth of heart patients even try rehab. Of those who do, few get all the sessions that are recommended. The new study is one of the first big efforts to look at how survival is affected by the "dose" of rehab that heart patients get. Researchers saw a clear trend in this 65-and-older group.
"What this study shows in a very convincing manner is that the more sessions a cardiac patient goes to, the better off they are," Dr. Stanley Hazen, preventive cardiology and rehabilitation chief at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Associated Press.
Say "rehab" and many people envision weak heart patients being pushed to run on a treadmill. Exercise is crucial, but it can be just a brisk walk or swimming or a stationary bike. That's important. Find something you enjoy and are willing to do.
More than three years later, 18 percent of those who attended fewer than 12 cardiac rehab sessions had died versus 11 percent of those who went to all 36 sessions. After taking into account age and other differences in these groups of patients, that works out to a 47 percent reduction in the risk of death for those attending 36 sessions. Heart attacks also were less common in that group.
There was a strong trend: as the number of classes went up, the risk of having a heart attack or dying in the next few years went down.