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February 17, 2010 > Heart attack: A wake-up call to the importance of physical fitness

Heart attack: A wake-up call to the importance of physical fitness

Sometimes, it takes a heart attack or other serious cardiac problem to get a person on the road to overall, long term fitness. That's what nurses and exercise specialists in Washington Hospital's Cardiac Rehabilitation Department report, as they work with patients who have been referred by their cardiologist after a heart attack, heart transplant, open heart surgery, or medical procedure to open blocked or narrowed blood vessels. People also come to the program when they have stable angina, chest pain that occurs with activity or stress but goes away with medication or rest.

"The right exercise program can enable people to reduce weight and blood pressure and can help control diabetes," explains Phyllis Fiscella, RN, department manager. "We also help people make lifestyle changes that can modify other cardiac risk factors."

According to the American Heart Association, the major risk factors for heart disease that can be modified through lifestyle changes or medication include:
* Tobacco smoke
* High blood cholesterol
* High blood pressure
* Physical inactivity
* Obesity and overweight
* Diabetes

Celebrating a strong heart

During National Cardiac Rehabilitation Week, February 14 through 21, Washington Hospital's Cardiac Rehab staff is joining other programs across the country to celebrate what they've helped patients to accomplish in reducing the devastating effects of heart disease. This year's theme is "Building a strong heart. You can do it. We can help."

Research shows, when supervised and integrated with education, a fitness program can present or slow the progression of heart disease that may lead to a heart attack or other cardiac-related problems. For those who have already had an attack, it can help avoid a recurrence or the need for additional surgical intervention.

Regular aerobic activity can encourage the formation of blood vessels that are able to supply blood to the heart if one of the main vessels becomes blocked. Additional benefits include depression reduction, stress relief and a positive effect on mood.

Get on the right program

One key to success is making sure the intensity of the exercise program is right for you.

"That's why it's important for any cardiac rehabilitation regimen to be supervised by a trained individual, such as a cardiac nurse, and have the constant involvement of an exercise physiologist," states Fiscella. "Our program has both of these experts."

Most people who are "in cardiac rehab" attend three hour-long sessions each week beginning four to six weeks after a heart attack or surgery. Each class includes a variety of different exercises with an emphasis on aerobic conditioning and endurance training. The typical regimen is 10 minutes of warm up and stretching, 40 minutes of exercise conditioning, and 10 minutes of cool down and stretching. During exercise, the heart is monitored using a portable telemetry device.

"After the 36-visit regimen covered by most insurance, some of our patients continue to participate in our maintenance program," reports Fiscella. "They enjoy the camaraderie and support of other participants, and they like having a personal trainer available to them all the times. Some of our patients have been coming for 20 years."

The maintenance program does not include telemetry. Since this program is not covered by insurance, Washington Hospital tries to keep the fees as low as possible.

Over they years, the staff at Washington Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation have helped many people get into the exercise habit. And, they find that once a person makes one lifestyle change, they often make others. Physicians also appreciate the program because the staff updates them about their patient's progress and encourages compliance with medications and other directives.

The program's Cardiac Rehabilitation gym is located in the Washington West building (2500 Mowry Avenue) adjacent to the Hospital. It contains a large variety of different types of equipment including treadmills, several types of stationary bikes, rowing machines, upper body exercisers, elliptical machines, and stairmasters.

"Our patients' ages range from the 40s to the 80s, with the average between 60 and 70," says Fiscella. "Since many of them also have arthritis or chronic muscle pain, we want to be able to provide equipment they can use safely despite their limitations."

For more information about Washington Hospital's Cardiac Rehabilitation Department, visit or call (510) 494-7022.

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