Updated by Maria Bäck, 23 August 2021
Cardiovascular rehabilitation (CR) is a multi-factorial and comprehensive intervention in secondary prevention, supervised and carried out by adequately trained health professionals, aimed at obtaining clinical stabilization, limit the physiological and psychological effects of cardiovascular disease, manage symptoms and reduce the risk of future cardiovascular events.1
CR is shown to reduce mortality, hospital readmissions, costs and to improve exercise capacity and quality of life2-8 and is recommended in international guidelines for all patients with coronary artery disease (class I, level of evidence A).9-13 In spite of current recommendations, CR referral and uptake is often suboptimal and varies across Europe1,14-15 and differences in delivery persist amongst cardiovascular rehabilitation centres in Europe, despite the available scientific documents describing the evidence-based content.16
CR is traditionally divided into three phases.1 Phase I is typically an inpatient service, which consists of early mobilisation, brief counselling about the nature of the illness, the treatment, risk factors management and follow-up planning. Phase II is mostly a supervised ambulatory outpatient programme. Phase III is a lifetime maintenance phase where the goal is to continue the risk factor- and lifestyle modification and exercise training. Alternative modes of CR delivery include home based programmes and e-health interventions using e.g. the internet and mobile phones.17-19
CR should be offered to all patients with coronary heart disease including: 9-13
- Patients with acute coronary syndrome—including ST-elevation myocardial infarction, non-ST elevation myocardial infarction, and unstable angina9-12
- Patients undergoing reperfusion (such as coronary artery bypass surgery and percutaneous coronary intervention)9-12
- Patients with chronic coronary syndromes13
Core components of CR include patient assessment, physical activity counselling, exercise training, diet/nutritional counselling, risk factor control, patient education, psychosocial management and vocational advice, with exercise training as a central component.1
Patient assessment with medical control
Includes screening for cardiovascular risk factors, co-morbidities, psychological stress, symptoms, adherence to medical regime, and a physical examination including e.g. measuring body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, heart rate, ECG and blood testing.
Physical activity counselling
It is recommended to perform at least 150-300 min a week of moderate-intensity or 75-150 min a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic PA or an equivalent combination thereof and to reduce sedentary time. Advise physical activity according to patient´s age, past habits, co-morbidities, preferences and goals.
Perform a pre-exercise screening, including maximal stress testing, either on bicycle ergometer or on the treadmill. If not applicable in a clinical setting sub-maximal exercise evaluation should be considered. Exercise prescription must be individually prescribed based on tests of physical capacity and preferably be prescribed according to the FITT (frequency, intensity, time (duration) and type of exercise) model.
Recommend continuous aerobic exercise at least 20-30 minutes (preferably 45-60 minutes/week), three days a week (preferably 6-7 days/week) at 50-80% of VO2max. High-intensity interval training at 90-95% of peak heart rate has been found equally effective as continuous aerobic exercise for patients with stable coronary artery disease. Resistance exercise should be recommended in addition to aerobic exercise, including 8-10 exercises at an intensity of 30-70% of the 1 repetition maximum (1RM) for upper body exercises and 40-80% of 1RM for lower body exercises, with 12-15 repetitions in at least 1 set, 2-3 times/week.
Assessment of daily caloric intake and dietary content of fat, saturated fat, sodium, and other nutrients.
Risk factor control
Encourage weight control through an appropriate balance of physical activity and caloric intake to achieve and maintain healthy BMI (18.5-24.9kg/m2). If weight circumference is ≥ 80 cm in women or ≥ 94 cm in men, it is recommended to initiate lifestyle changes and consider treatment strategies, particularly if associated with multiple risk factors, such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, insulin resistance or diabetes.
Assess lipid profile and modify diet, physical activity, and medication if appropriate. Target low-density lipoprotein (LDL) level is defined as < 1.4 mmol/l.
Measure blood pressure frequently at rest. If resting systolic blood pressure is 130-139 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure is 85-89 mmHg, lifestyle modifications are recommended. Aim for target blood pressure <140/90 mmHg in all patients, targeted to <130/80 mmHg or lower in most patients when treatment is tolerated.
Smokers should be encouraged to stop smoking all forms of tobacco permanently. Follow-up, referral to special programmes, and/or pharmacotherapy are recommended.
Offer patient education to help patients cope with their illness, improve their health-related quality of life and ensure compliance with pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment.
Screen for psychological distress as indicated by clinically significant levels of depression, anxiety, anger or hostility, social isolation, occupational or marital distress, sexual dysfunction. If appropriate, offer individual and/or group small group education and counselling. Whenever possible, offer partners access to information sessions.
Before discharge, discuss and promote a return to prior activities with patients and their partners. Offer procedures to help patients to overcome barriers to return to work, such as re-training and capacity building and reasonable adjustments.