Harvard Heart Letter

Cardiac rehab: Even better with stress reduction

Cardiac rehabilitation—a supervised program to help people recover after a heart attack or heart surgery—may be more helpful if it includes stress reduction training, according to a study published online March 21 in the journal Circulation.

Researchers compared three groups of heart patients: people who did cardiac rehab for 12 weeks, those who did cardiac rehab plus stress reduction, and those who chose not to participate in cardiac rehab. The stress reduction group engaged in weekly, 1.5 hour-long sessions that included small group discussions and training in stress reduction, coping skills, and relaxation techniques.

After a follow-up of about three years, the rate of cardiac events (heart attacks, strokes, recurrent chest pain requiring hospitalization, and death) was just 18% in the group doing rehab plus stress management. Rates among those who did standard rehab and those who did no rehab were 33% and 47%, respectively.

Currently, most cardiac rehabilitation programs don't offer stress management, but that might change if there's more demand for it, according to the study's lead author.