Harvard Women's Health Watch

Women shirk cardiac rehab, study shows

Women are not only more likely than men to overlook symptoms of heart disease, they are also more likely to skip rehab once they're diagnosed, even though completing the programs has been shown to reduce the risk of death by 26%.

The Cardiac Rehabilitation for Heart Event Recovery (CR4HER) study was designed to test three types of rehab programs to see which was more effective for—and attractive to—women. Researchers randomly assigned 169 female heart patients to 24 sessions over six months in one of three rehab programs. Women in one group were visited three times in their homes by physical therapists and instructed to complete exercises on their own thereafter. Those in the other two groups were assigned to either a mixed-sex or all-female program at a rehabilitation facility.

The women who had home visits completed 58% of the sessions; those in the female-only group, 54%; and those in the mixed-sex group, 51%. Over all, participants who completed all their rehab sessions had significant improvements in heart function. In addition, those who were randomized to coed rehab had significantly greater increases in cardiac capacity than those who trained at home.

The findings, which were published online Dec. 9, 2015, by Mayo Clinic Proceedings, demonstrate that cardiac rehab can be effective for women who complete it. Yet a large proportion of women still fail to finish those programs, regardless of the program type.