They tried to make me go to rehab …

… and I said, “Yes, Yes, Yes!”

Recovering from heart surgery can be an isolating experience. Particularly if people around you are young(ish), fit and healthy. I spent the first few weeks at home resting, walking and doing mobility exercises. Venturing out was daunting and optional. I needed a purpose. I needed rehab!

A short lesson in etymology

I’m interested in etymology. Yes, I’m a word nerd. Bear with me. I want to show how rehabilitation means more than its definition.

The definition of rehabilitation is:

“The action of restoring someone to health or normal life through training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness”

  • The first known use of the word was around 1581. Hey, that’s almost 5 centuries of rehab!
  • The word originates from Latin re (again) + habilitare (restore, make fit)

But it’s the stems of habilitare which give “rehabilitation” more meaning.

Stems like: habit-, hab-, -habili-, habil-

  • You can live in a dwelling (habitat)
  • You can develop a custom (habit)
  • Drop the “h” and you can do things (able, ability)
  • You can wear clothes (the French verb “to wear” is “habiller”)

Therefore, by going to rehab not only do you restore and make yourself fit but you can also keep living, form healthy habits, increase your abilities and, um… wear clothes.


Je m’habille pour aller à la réadaptation cardiaque!


All you wanted to know about Cardiac Rehabilitation but were afraid to ask

There are many phases of Cardiac Rehabilitation. It starts in hospital of course, with regaining mobility and balance. This post focuses on the end phases.

It is reassuring to be under the supervision of a physiotherapist in a hospital setting when you start exercise after heart surgery. Should anything go wrong, you’re in the best place.

Q: Where is the Cardiac Rehabilitation held?

I went to the physiotherapy clinic called SouthCare at St John of God Murdoch, the hospital where I’d spent a week preparing for surgery. In the early weeks, I needed a lift there because I couldn’t drive. Neighbours, work colleagues, and my sister-in-law chauffeured me there and back. I am grateful to them all.

Q: Who goes to Cardiac Rehabilitation?

If the doctors tell you to go to rehab then you should go. If they don’t tell you, then ASK! You can ask your cardiologist or the hospital for recommendations. I’ve put some links in the reference section.

But who actually goes? Only 1 in 3 people. That’s pitiful.

The regulars at my rehab were over 70, most had heart conditions but a few had lung disease and walked about with mini oxygen tanks in tow.

At 48, I felt terribly young in their company. I felt guilty for my youth because while I progressed my fitness, they maintained theirs. But hey, that is still great! After class, this sprightly gang of seniors went to the hospital café and interacted socially.

Q: What do you do at Cardiac Rehabilitation?

Some rehab classes include dietary and lifestyle advice, as well as exercises. Thankfully, mine was exercise-based only. Had anyone tried to tell me about making improvements to my diet or lifestyle, I might have thrown my chair at them (if I could). I wrote about feeling ripped off in another post.


Even Michelangelo knew the importance of a pulse-oximetry monitor. (Image credit BickerLab O2)

Before starting the exercise class, your heart rate and oxygen levels are monitored with a pulse-oximetry gadget placed on your finger.

I have skinny fingers. It was winter. I was on beta blockers. My hands were icy cold. More often than not, the physio couldn’t get a reading from me.

The type of exercises you do depends on

  • Your condition
  • Your physiotherapist
  • Your goals
  • How you’re feeling that day

My programme consisted of

  • 20 mins on a stationary bike
  • Leg exercises: lunges, calf raises, marching on the spot, lateral leg lifts, squats etc. (using strap-on-weights, standing or sitting)
  • Arm exercises: shoulders, biceps, triceps (using a large elastic band)
  • Stepping up and down on a step
  • Walking rapidly through the hospital corridors
  • Treadmill walking

After walking or cycling your heart rate and oxygen are measured again.

Q: How often, and for how long, do you go to Cardiac Rehabilitation?

Again, it will depend on you and what your physiotherapist recommends.

Initially, I went twice a week. The classes lasted one hour. As I improved I dropped to once a week. After about 6 months, I returned to regular clinical Pilates. Rehab doesn’t take 6 months. I just kept going because I was enjoying it.

Q: What are the benefits of Cardiac Rehabilitation?

Here’s what puzzles me about people who don’t go to rehab. The benefits of rehab include lowering your risk of another heart attack and dying!

Why would you decline the opportunity to

  • Reduce the chance of having a heart attack
  • Improve cardiac output
  • Strengthen your heart
  • Have better lung capacity
  • Strengthen muscles
  • Increase endurance
  • Increase confidence
  • Live a longer life
  • Have better balance and stability
  • Experience less pain and medication
  • Enjoy social interaction
  • Reduce stress and emotional pain
  • Return to normal life?

WHY would you voluntarily choose to reject these benefits?

Q: What are the highlights of Cardiac Rehabilitation?

The social aspect was more than I’d bargained for.

Admittedly in the beginning, despite my enthusiasm, I was apprehensive, weak, sore, wobbly, and self-conscious at being so young.

My physio was in his mid-twenties and always had a university student with him. These guys were funny and made us all laugh. There was always some sort of in-joke or weekend sporting injury going on. I was quickly put at ease and became part of the “family”.

Twice, we went out for breakfast together with our families. It was a good way for my husband to meet the people I had told him about from rehab.

An unexpected highlight for me was being amongst the older people.

Some had survived multiple heart attacks; others had life-threatening problems. They were inspirational with their attitude and determination.

All had fewer years of life remaining compared to me, but their positive outlook gave me a tremendous surge of hope for my own future – something I desperately needed because my own mother was dying at this exact time in a most upsetting manner.

This is the type of feeling you can’t get from seeing a doctor or reading a brochure.

Questions. Please share your thoughts!

  • Can you think of any more words that stem from habilitare?
  • Why do you think 2 out of 3 people don’t go to rehab? When are excuses valid?
  • If you don’t live in Australia, would you please share any rehab references with us?

References specially selected for you

Cardiac Rehabilitation

Lots of links from the Australian Heart Foundation

It benefits people, society and the health system

This one is interesting because it talks about young patients undergoing cardiac rehab.

Where to find Cardiac Rehab in Australia

Reasons why people don’t go to rehab

How pulse-oximtery works


2 thoughts on “They tried to make me go to rehab …

  1. Thanks so much Faye for this comprehensive and convincing overview of the many benefits of attending (and completing!) a supervised program of cardiac rehab. Thanks also for including a link to my “why people don’t go to rehab” Heart Sisters blog post. The reality here in North America is the shocking failure of so many physicians to refer their heart patients to cardiac rehabilitation (some studies peg this number at about 20% of all eligible patients are referred by their docs). This is criminal, given the long-proven lifesaving and quality-of-life-improving results of the programs. And we know that the #1 predictor of successfully completing rehab is “physician endorsement”. As cardiologist Dr. Sharonne Hayes (founder of the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic at the world-famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota once wrote, ‘if your doctor doesn’t recommend cardiac rehab to you, it’s time to change doctors!”

    Speaking of creative words, last year there was much public debate among cardiologists here on whether it was the name “rehab” that might be the reason so many patients are put off from attending cardiac rehab. I asked my blog readers to weigh in with their opinions, and their answers were telling:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carolyn,

      Thanks for your comment and compliment.

      Australia’s health system is pretty good (but sadly it seems to be progressing towards something like the US’s system). So there’d be some different factors involved in lack of uptake here.

      Having said that, I am baffled why anyone, with no good reason, would refuse cardiac rehab.

      My suspicion is that some people perceive exercise and a “healthy lifestyle” as a chore or inconvenience. The fact that this is how many get into heart trouble in the first place is lost on them!

      As for me, I already lived and loved my healthy lifestyle pre-CABG, and I was totally motivated to return to my former state of fitness. There was no holding me back!

      Your reader poll was interesting. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” as Shakespeare said. I feel that changing the name “rehab” to something else, might sway a few people.

      Added to aforementioned apathy towards self-health, I think people’s reticence might come from fear, the unknown, embarrassment, culture/ethnicity, money woes, transportation. I hope those obstacles and any others are being considered as means to address the low uptake rates.

      I love your blog BTW. Very informative. 🙂


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