Hard as steel, tough as glass: building a strong heart through cardiac rehabilitation

As we get older, all of the bad habits that we’ve had our entire lives starts to bite us in the butt. Almost every condition or disease happens more often as we get older. Age is therefore considered a “risk factor” for a disease. What this means is that statistically, its more likely as you get older.

Heart attack and stroke are two of the leading causes of death and disability in Canada. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has estimated that each year more than 350,000 go to hospital for either a heart attack or stroke and 1.3 million Canadians are living with heart disease.

Up to 80% of people who get heart disease or stroke early could have been prevented it through healthy lifestyle choices. 80% is a huge number.

When a heart attack or stroke hits, many of us are ill prepared and emotionally rocked by the impacts. In the hospital, there are so many people coming in and out, you’re tired and your body is trying to heal. It is hard to think what the next steps can be or what you need to do to get back to where you were before.

This is where cardiac rehabilitation comes into play.

After a heart attack, the hope is that every person will get referred to a cardiac rehabilitation program. This program works on getting you stronger and healthier through diet, exercise, and teaching about stress management and healthy lifestyle choices. It is essentially physiotherapy for your heart, one of the strongest muscles in your body. Most hospitals have an out-patient cardiac rehabilitation program that is offered to patients once they have been sent home from the hospital. The problem is that there is inconsistency in how many doctors refer to these programs as well as often times long wait lists to get in the programs. Some wait lists are upwards of 3 months, the time when people would be going back to work and often now can no longer attend the programs that take place during the day.

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But the Canadian government isn’t even tracking this data. The wait times listed by the Cardiac Care Network are times for heart surgeries – both necessary and elective (the patient decided to have it). This is an important thing to track too but I feel as if it is just the beginning of the wellness process. Getting back to where you were before the surgery requires more follow up and the proper exercise to get you back! But because we aren’t looking at these numbers we don’t know! Our only insights come from talking to specific cardiac rehabilitation departments about wait times.

This creates a huge gap and a huge need.

Cardiac rehab programs: What are they?

Cardiac rehabilitation (CR) are programs that are created for people who have heart issues. Often started after a person has had a heart attack or surgery on their heart, these programs typically last for 12 weeks, are 2x/week and focus on a mix of cardio and strength exercises as well as education on healthy habits. Duration is usually 60-90 minutes.

The important points for these programs is that they are run by registered healthcare professionals, usually physiotherapists and kinesiologists for the exercise portion. Your doctor would have cleared you to exercise before the beginning of your program.

CR programs: SO MANY BENEFITS.IMG_1182

  • Research has shown that they can reduce this risk of having another heart attack.
  • Decrease risk of death from other causes.
  • They increase the strength of your heart and muscles.
  • They improve your walking ability
  • They improve your ability to do household work (though sometimes you might not want that!)
  • They have been shown to increase your mood and make you feel happier (especially after something like heart surgery, you need the boost sometimes)
  • They can improve the quality of your life.
  • They keep your heart healthy

The list goes on and on and on.

Does this sound like something you need?

Even if you’re at high risk for a heart event, like having high blood pressure or cholesterol, these programs may be PERFECT for you.IMG_1941 Talk to your doctor, look around your area for local programs and what their eligibility criteria are, ASK for the referral.

At STAVE OFF, we are in the process of starting a cardiac rehabilitation program called, “Tick, Tock”.
A program that will be for people discharged from hospital for a heart related incident or those who are worried about their hearts after a scare. This is our way of serving our community and trying to help members of our community who may be waiting for entry into the community-based outpatient rehab program.

These types of programs are often available through your local hospitals. Here is a directory for Canadians to find a cardiac rehabilitation program. For more information about CR programs check out the Heart and Stroke foundation.

If you’re local to the Kingston area, check out the program at Hotel Dieu or click here for more information about our Tick Tock program!


Barry, A. R., O’Neill, D. E., & Graham, M. M. (2016). Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in older adults. The Canadian Journal of Cardiology, doi:S0828-282X(16)00093-3 [pii]

Dalal, H. M., Doherty, P., & Taylor, R. S. (2015). Cardiac rehabilitation. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 351, h5000. doi:10.1136/bmj.h5000 [doi]

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

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Christina Prevett

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