Cardiac Rehabilitation Program

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Discover the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation at Aurora.

Cardiac Rehabilitation is a comprehensive medically supervised program which is designed to optimize a cardiac patient’s physical, psychological, and social functioning. It is evidence-based medicine with clinically proven outcomes that improve the health of patients being discharged following a cardiac event.

During cardiac rehabilitation, health care professionals provide you with the education and support you need to get stronger and healthier. Cardiac rehabilitation focuses on the following areas:

  • Heart-healthy eating
  • Long-term strategies to lose weight and keep it off
  • Incorporating physical activity and exercise into your daily life
  • Managing stress in your life
  • Improving mood
  • And, if necessary, smoking cessation

Cardiac rehabilitation is an extremely safe therapy.  In fact participation includes monitoring of heart rate, heart rhythm and a patient’s signs and symptoms.  Participating in cardiac rehabilitation can actually slow or even reverse the heart disease process.  In addition, cardiac rehabilitation staff will communicate regularly with your physician which enhances the information he/she has in treating you. 

Benefits of Cardiac Rehabilitation

Cardiac rehab can help you live longer and lessen your chance of having another heart attack. The proven benefits of participating in cardiac rehabilitation are:

  • Control heart disease symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath
  • Lessen the physical and emotional effects of heart disease
  • Improve your stamina and strength, getting you back to your usual activities, including work and recreational activities 
  • Improve your confidence and well-being
  • Stop or reverse damage to your blood vessels in your heart
  • Increase life expectancy by up to 5 years
  • Improve cholesterol panel
  • Reduce symptoms (angina, dyspnea, fatigue)
  • Improve quality of life
  • Reduce hospitalizations

In a five-year follow-up, cardiac rehabilitation completion was significantly associated with:

  • Improved survival rates of over 30%
  • Higher compliance with doctor's recommended regimen
  • 25% decrease in risk of reoccuring heart attack
  • Reduced heart disease risk factors by 50%
  • Improvement in psychosocial symptoms (reduced depression, anger, anxiety)

The Three Phases of Cardiac Rehab

Cardiac rehabilitation consists of the following phases:

Phase I - Inpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation

Inpatient cardiac rehabilitation begins when the patient is hospitalized and includes mild exercise to gradually improve strength prior to discharge.  In addition the patient receives education and counseling regarding cardiac risk factors and a personalized plan to reduce risk factors.

Phase 2 - Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation

Outpatient cardiac rehabilitation typically begins 1-4 weeks after discharge from the hospital.  Research shows that patients who enroll in a cardiac rehabilitation program in the first week following discharge from the hospital for a heart procedure, and complete the program, receive the greatest long-term benefit.

A physician referral is required for you to participate.  This program includes supervised, monitored exercise within a hospital or clinic.  The patient’s heart rate and rhythm are continuously monitored as well as blood pressure response.  For patients with diabetes, blood sugar will be closely monitored as well. 

Patients will utilize various pieces of exercise equipment that are known to improve the functioning of the heart and lungs.  Examples include treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical and nu-step. 

An important component of this phase of cardiac rehabilitation is cardiac risk factor modification.  This includes group and individual education, counseling, and behavioral intervention which are tailored to each individual patient’s needs.  Examples include physical activity, nutrition, lipid management, blood pressure management, smoking cessation, weight management, diabetes management and psychosocial management. 

This phase of cardiac rehabilitation is reimbursed by Medicare and most insurance providers.  The diagnosis which are eligible for coverage are:

  • Chronic heart failure
  • Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)
  • Percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA)
  • Coronary stent
  • Heart valve repair or replacement
  • Heart transplant
  • Stable angina

Patients participating in cardiac rehabilitation can follow their normal patterns of eating and taking their medications. Cardiac rehabilitation is offered at convenient times even for patients who have returned to work. Patients should arrive 15 minutes prior to each session, which allows your clinician to assess you prior to beginning your therapy for the day.

The program consists of up to 36 sessions within 12 weeks, 3 times per week.  Each session lasts approximately 1 hour.  On the days a patient participates in education the session will be 1 ½ hour. 

Phase 3 - Maintenance

Maintenance outpatient cardiac rehabilitation typically begins when a patient has completed a phase 2 program.  This is an ideal program for patients who wish to remain in a supervised program in a hospital or clinic.  This phase of rehabilitation promotes long term adherence to exercise and cardiac risk factor modification. 


An interdisciplinary team of health professionals will provide your care while you are participating in cardiac rehabilitation.  The team is led by a Medical Director and includes nurses and exercise physiologists.  A registered dietitian will be available to provide you with guidelines for heart healthy eating and help with nutrition needs such as weight management, lipid management and diabetes management.  Consultation to a health psychologist is available for patients who may have depression or anxiety.    

What to Expect during Cardiac Rehabilitation

Five patients describe their experiences with cardiac rehabilitation at Aurora Health Care.

A typical cardiac rehabilitation session includes an assessment by a cardiac clinician to make sure you are safe to exercise.  Questions you will be asked are have you taken your medications today are you having any pain.  Your heart rate and blood pressure will be recorded. You will then participate in exercise under the close supervision of your clinician. 

After you recover from the exercise, your clinician will make sure you are safe to be discharged.  Cardiac rehabilitation is performed in group sessions so you will be exercising with other patients that have experienced similar heart related issues.  Patients find the group support very helpful to their recovery. 

Recovery after Cardiac Rehabilitation

Upon completion of a cardiac rehabilitation course, patients report feeling stronger and have an increased ability to perform their daily activities.  For many patients it is the first time they have participated in a regular exercise program, and they now have developed a habit of regular exercise.  In addition many patients who are recovering from heart procedures may be fearful of what they can and cannot do; their participation has given them the confidence that they are safe to increase exercise and activity levels.  

After participation in cardiac rehabilitation, it is recommended that patients continue a lifelong habit of exercise and healthful eating.  Typically patients will exercise 5 days per week for 30-60 minutes at a moderate intensity.  Many patients will purchase home exercise equipment, join a health club or continue participation in a phase 3 cardiac rehabilitation program. 

A healthy diet will include lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  In addition appropriate intake of calories and portion control is recommended for management of weight and prevention of obesity.  

Why Choose Aurora for Cardiac Rehabilitation?

As an integrated health care system, Aurora Health Care provides cardiac rehabilitation at several hospital and clinic sites.  Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center as a tertiary care center provides procedures such as Heart Bypass Surgery, Angioplasty, Stents, Heart Valve surgery and other state of the art procedures.  Patients may have their care at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center but wish to continue rehabilitation within their community.  

With our electronic medical record we are able to provide continuity of care for our patients.  Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center is home to the largest cardiac rehabilitation program in Wisconsin currently enrolling 500 patients per year. 

Cardiac Rehabilitation is provided at the following Aurora facilities: