Cardiac rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation (cardiac rehab for short) helps you get back to as full a life as possible after a cardiac event such as a heart attack, heart surgery or stent procedure.

You may also be able to attend a cardiac rehab programme if you have been diagnosed with heart failure or if you have a device such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

Cardiac rehab gives you and your family the information, support and advice you need to return to everyday life. Cardiac rehab is a vital part of your long term recovery, so consider it as important as taking your medication. Research has shown that cardiac rehab can reduce your risk of having another heart event, being readmitted to hospital and has a positive impact on your wellbeing and quality of life.

It is an individualised programme usually made up of a mix of exercise and education sessions. You may also be able to access it through other formats such as the Heart Manual or through other resources if you are unable to attend in person, or if you would rather do a home based programme. 

Attending cardiac rehab will help you live a heart healthy lifestyle and provide psychological support for the anxiety and depression often associated with a heart event, or living with a heart condition. 

Many cardiac rehab centres run two sessions a week, but this varies from place to place. Cardiac rehab may take place in a hospital or community setting such as a leisure centre. It isn’t a residential programme. 

How can cardiac rehab help me?

Cardiac rehab will help you with: 

  • understanding your condition 
  • recovering from your surgery, procedure or heart attack
  • making changes to your lifestyle that will help improve your heart health
  • reducing the risk of further heart problems
  • the psychological aspects of living with a heart condition.

People are often nervous about starting cardiac rehab as they worry about not being able to do as much as other people or being the odd one out, but everyone has 'first day nerves' and you are quickly put at ease.

You will be offered an initial assessment, where you and a cardiac rehab specialist will discuss an individualised plan for you. 

Cardiac rehab also gives you the chance to meet other people who are going through similar experiences as you and helps you build up your confidence. 

No matter your age, gender or ethnicity you will benefit from cardiac rehab. 

If you have reduced mobility, are hard of hearing or visually impaired, speak to your cardiac rehab specialist and they will be able to adjusted the programme to suit your needs. 

If English isn’t your first language, and you do not have a family member able to attend with you, it may be possible for the team to arrange for a translator to be present.

Cardiac rehab programmes last for up to 10-12 weeks and the sessions usually run for approximately 2 hours at a time. If you can, make time for cardiac rehab, and prioritise it like you would a hospital appointment. 

Cardiac rehab classes usually take place on weekdays between 9-5, so you may have to take time off work to attend. Discuss with your colleagues that in the short term attending will help with your long term recovery. 

Group of people exercising

When will I start cardiac rehabilitation?

If you have had a heart attack or heart surgery, cardiac rehab usually starts when a member of the team visits you on the ward before you go home. This is an opportunity to talk about your condition, the treatment you've had and your recovery.

After leaving hospital, a cardiac rehab nurse will ring you, or you can call them if you have queries or questions. Their phone line will be open Monday to Friday and if you need to leave a message they will get back to you as soon as they can.

If your procedure doesn’t involve staying in hospital for longer than a day, such as after having a stent, speak to your GP or nurse about being referred to a cardiac rehab programme. Depending on your condition and your recovery, you should also be invited to start a cardiac rehabilitation programme as soon as a place becomes available for you and you feel ready to start. 

You will be invited for an assessment prior to attending the first session. If you’re apprehensive about cardiac rehab, going along to this initial assessment will help put your mind at ease and you will be able to chat to the specialist nurse or physiotherapist about your worries. 

This is an opportunity to discuss ways of addressing your risk factors such as eating more healthily, giving up smoking as well as how you can safely build up your exercise levels. This may also be the time to talk about personal concerns such as sexual problems and financial issues. The nurses are very used to hearing about these problems and have the time to listen and advise.

Who is offered cardiac rehab? 

Cardiac rehab is available to people who have had:
If your doctor or nurse recommends that you don’t need cardiac rehab but you feel you would benefit from it, don’t be afraid to express this to them. Ask them to refer you as patients can’t attend a programme otherwise.

What happens at cardiac rehab?

Exercise sessions 

A group cardiac rehab programme should include around 10-12 weeks of structured exercise sessions tailored to each person’s individual need, allowing them to safely return to fitness and gradually build in strength and confidence.
A typical exercise session involves a warm up, the main exercise component, which may be circuit based or use equipment such as stationary bikes, and a cool down. Some programmes have a relaxation session at the end too.
  • The warm up prepares your heart for exercise by slightly increasing your heart rate, this will make you slightly breathless and prepare your body and muscles to reduce the risk of injury.
  • The main exercise component involves working at an intensity so that you feel like you are benefitting from the exercise and are slightly out of breath, but that you can still hold a conversation. The team will come round and talk to you to see how you are getting on and they will check your pulse to see if you are meeting your target heart rate.
  • The cool down gradually brings your heart rate and breathing back down to what it was when you started.  
Don’t worry if you feel nervous about exercising. The nurses, physiotherapists and exercise specialists will be on hand to support you and ensure you exercise safely and effectively to ensure you get the best out of your sessions. You will be able to exercise at a pace that feels right for you, so don’t worry about keeping up with others or feeling too restricted if you feel you could push yourself further.
You could also try our target heart rate calculator which will help you work out the heart rate you should be aiming for while exercising.
The type of activity you do during the exercise component can depend on your fitness level before your heart event or diagnosis. If you were very active before, you may find you are able to do more at your sessions than others, but it is still important to return to it gradually.
Learn more about what happens at cardiac rehab by reading an instructor’s account of a typical exercise session.
People often ask whether there is a dress code at cardiac rehab – there isn’t, but your safety is paramount.

It’s recommended you wear something cool and comfortable that you can easily move around in, like tracksuit bottoms or shorts and a t-shirt, and closed-toe, non-slip shoes or trainers.

Information and education sessions 

Alongside your exercise session, you may also have group education sessions. These sessions usually cover a variety of topics such as eating healthily, how to exercise safely, stress management, how to perform basic life support (CPR) and medication for the heart

If you have questions, these sessions are the perfect place to ask them. Your family members are also welcome to come along and ask questions too, but they won’t be able to participate in the exercise component.

Emotional support and wellbeing 

After a heart event, it is normal to feel a mixture of emotions, like anger, frustration and feeling sad. Feeling confused and isolated after a heart event is very common and can have a major effect on you and your loved ones. 

Visit our health and emotional support page for advice and information about adjusting to life with a heart condition and dealing with mental health concerns or stress.  

What does it cost to attend a cardiac rehab programme?

A cardiac rehab programme offered by a hospital is free of charge. Exercise sessions which you might do as an ongoing programme may have a small cost attached, but you will continue to be monitored by specially trained exercise advisors. 

There are some Heart Support Groups that organise cheaper exercise classes. 

Where’s my nearest cardiac rehab programme?

You can find out where your nearest cardiac rehabilitation programme is by visiting or by calling our Heart Helpline on 0300 330 3311. 

What if I can't attend a cardiac rehab programme? 

You may find that your condition or circumstances make it difficult for you to attend a cardiac rehabilitation programme. If so, talk to the cardiac rehabilitation team about other ways you can benefit from the programme – for example you may be able to follow a programme in your own home with support from your local cardiac rehabilitation team. 

More information on cardiac rehabilitation

For more information on cardiac rehab and the support available to you:

Cardiac rehab Quality and Outcomes Report 2018

For detailed information on the uptake and effectiveness of cardiac rehabilitation programmes across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can download our National Audit of Cardiac Rehabilitation (NACR) Quality and Outcomes Report 2018, or visit our external website for further information about the report and how it is created.






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