Meet the cardiac rehab professionals

Physiologist Nicola Heath exercises with a patient

Cardiac rehab helps you recover after a heart event. Sarah Brealey explains what's involved and meets a patient who has benefited.

After he’d had a heart attack in Heathrow Airport, Ian Nelson, 60, found that cardiac rehabilitation helped him get back on his feet. Ian, who was on his way home from the United States, was taken to Hillingdon Hospital and then had an angioplasty at Harefield Hospital.

Starting a rehabilitation course at his local leisure centre in Newcastle-under-Lyme gave him reassurance. “Having someone to speak to about any aches and twinges you’re getting and what they might mean, to support you while you exercise, to ask questions if you need to, and to know that they’ve got your back – that is great,” he says.

Cardiac rehab schemes typically provide information and support soon after you are diagnosed or treated, followed by weekly sessions for up to 12 weeks. Each programme offers access to a range of trained professionals, such as experts in exercise, nutrition, behaviour change and heart health, although exact roles will vary from place to place.

I didn't really know what I could do, but the team helped me to push myself a bit

Ian Nelson

Ian, a hearing aid audiologist, particularly appreciated advice about how much he could safely exercise and the emotional support. “I didn’t really know what I could do, but the team helped me to push myself a bit,” he says. “Also, you are feeling a bit vulnerable – I think most people would. Having someone on hand to provide reassurance was helpful.”

The course gave Ian a structured exercise plan and also included education sessions explaining topics such as healthy eating and medications. “I had a good understanding of healthy eating, but I never really understood the impact of exercise and how it can help reduce your blood pressure,” Ian says. “I was quite fit and active before, but I now make an effort to go to the gym regularly, doing a session every Friday.”

Once cardiac rehab has finished, it’s important to maintain lifestyle changes, and you’ll get advice on how to do this. Ian was encouraged to carry on exercising in the same gym, which he does, though you can also find out about alternatives, like walking groups, too.

Ian says he is “feeling good” and is able to do everything he used to do before his heart attack. He has reduced his working hours from five days a week to three, but he is enjoying being back at work and is looking forward to a holiday with his wife in Hong Kong.

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