‘Women-only’ cardiac rehabilitation curbs depression for heart attack survivors

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

On any given day, women are vastly outnumbered by men at cardiac rehabilitation – when they show up at all. Female heart patients who do attend while recovering from a cardiac event often say they don’t like working out in the cardiac rehab gym alongside so many men – in fact, there’s usually a one-to-five ratio of women to men. To address this concern and attract more women heart attack survivors, some programs are now offering female-only cardiac rehab sessions.

This is a good thing, as we know that a cardiac rehab program can help survivors improve their physical fitness, learn about nutrition, meet other heart patients, and get support to quit smoking, lose weight or make other heart-healthy lifestyle changes to improve heart health. In fact, completing a course of cardiac rehabilitation can result in a 26%-40% reduction in cardiac mortality over the following five years.

But those improved odds are only possible if physicians actually refer their heart patients to rehab.

Yet referral rates remain shockingly low – it’s estimated that only 20% of all eligible patients are referred by their physicians.  See also: Failure to refer: why are doctors ignoring cardiac rehab?

Depression is another factor that can keep us away from cardiac rehab. 

Depression often follows a heart disease diagnosis (Mayo Clinic cardiologists tell us that up to 65% of survivors suffer depression, yet fewer than 10% are appropriately diagnosed).  Depression is also in general twice as likely to affect women as men. Depression interferes with how well we can stick with important lifestyle modifications following a cardiac event,  as well as our willingness to even bother showing up for cardiac rehabilitation.

It turns out that a major benefit of attending and completing a cardiac rehab program after a heart attack is that symptoms of depression actually improved among women who participated in a motivationally-enhanced cardiac rehabilitation program exclusively for women, according to a presentation at November’s American Heart Association’s annual scientific meetings.  Continue reading “‘Women-only’ cardiac rehabilitation curbs depression for heart attack survivors”