Stress Management May Aid Heart Attack Recovery

Health Writer

Adding stress management to cardiac rehabilitation may bring extra benefits to people recovering from heart complications or surgery. That's according to a study of 151 patients referred for cardiac rehabilitation to help manage coronary heart disease.

Half of the patients were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of traditional rehabilitation, which included three exercise sessions a week, diet counseling, and education about coronary heart disease. The other half had traditional rehabilitation plus stress management, which involved a weekly group class on navigating daily stressors and using imagery and muscle relaxation techniques to unwind.

After 12 weeks, both groups were faring better—with improvements in cholesterol, heart rate, and fitness levels. But the stress-management patients showed greater reductions in anxiety and distress.

What's more, their long-term outlook was better: Over the next three years, 18 percent suffered a complication such as a heart attack, stroke, or hospital stay for angina, compared with 33 percent of patients who received standard rehabilitation only.

Cardiac rehabilitation has important benefits, yet most patients who are eligible do not take part. Ask your doctor whether a rehab program might be right for you.

Programs do vary, and may or may not include stress management; if you feel like you’re chronically anxious or distressed, talk to your doctor about what kind of help is available.