Today I’m writing on a subject I know extremely well. As someone who has worked as an exercise physiologist in cardiac and pulmonary rehab at both UNC and Durham Regional Hospital, I have a lot of first-hand experience.  Chances are, over the course of your life, you will know someone –it might even be you– who will have heart or lung disease and be offered the opportunity for rehab. My advice to them (or you) is to sign up as fast as possible.

Rehab services, as they are today, are relatively new. The old school of thought was that people with heart or lung disease should avoid exercise since it would further damage an already sick person. However, over the years, clinical research has shown that to be completely false. This led to the creation of the modern rehab program, which usually consists of a cardiologist/pulmonologist, a program director, cardiac nurses and an exercise physiologist. Programs today are based on a comprehensive approach to help patients not only with the physical aspect of getting better, but also providing mental health, nutrition and health education services.

Upon being referred to a program, you’ll meet with a member of the staff who will explain to you how the program works. Programs are usually twelve weeks in length, and meet 3 days per week for approximately and hour and a half at a time. Upon starting, you will also undergo tests to measure your physical well-being, as well as your mental health state. (Heart and lung disease can take a severe toll on a person’s mindset, especially if they were in good health before their event. UNC offers a cardiac survivors support group as well.)

Based on your test results, the exercise physiologist will prescribe a workout routine for you.  Each time you come to class, you will workout under the watchful eye of the staff who will ensure that you are exercising at an appropriate intensity. The cardiac nurses are a great resource for any questions you have about medications and other health related issues as well. The staff nutritionist will regularly meet with you and discuss your diet. Exercise alone is not enough, so be sure to take to heart whatever the nutritionist says.

Near the end of the twelve weeks, your physical and mental well-being will be retested. I can assure you, if you commit to the program and do as you are instructed, you will come out much healthier and happier than you came in.

Aside from the physical benefits of rehab, it is a great social atmosphere as well. You will be in a class where everyone has something in common, so it’s easy to make friends and support one another. I still see many former patients who loved their time in the program, and continue to exercise and use the resources we provided them. Rehab can be a life-changing event; I witness it every time I speak to a former patient who cannot believe they waited so long to start exercising and taking better care of themselves.

To conclude, while suffering from a cardiac or pulmonary event can be a terrifying experience, these rehab programs were specifically created to help get patients through the aftermath. Rehab programs are proven to be safe, supportive places to help you get back on your feet, and hopefully in better shape than you were before.