Cardiac Rehabilitation Phase III: Long-Term Lifestyle Change

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Cardiac Rehabilitation Phase III: Long-Term Lifestyle Change

Topic Overview

Phase III is often referred to as the maintenance phase of cardiac rehab because it emphasizes long-term lifestyle changes, such as a regular exercise program. The program will help you practice and keep healthy behaviours and habits.

Your goals for phase III of cardiac rehab are to:

  • Learn lifestyle changes to lower your risk of future heart problems.
  • Continue exercising to regain your physical function.

Phase III programs are usually held at a community facility or at home and will be tailored to your specific needs.

Regular communication with your rehab staff or doctor for periodic reviews and assessments is an important part of phase III. Your progress will be monitored by several rehab staff members. The number of phase III rehab sessions you have each week will vary depending upon the structure of your particular program.

Your rate of recovery depends on age, gender, and other health conditions. Depending upon your condition and how you respond to rehab, you may stay in a particular phase or move back and forth among the various phases. There is no set length of time that you must stay in a specific phase.

Lifestyle changes

The phase III rehab staff will give you information and tools to enforce healthy habits, such as not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, and dealing with stress. You will also get tips on nutrition and taking your medicines.

Phase III focuses on making lifestyle changes part of your everyday life.

  • During phase III programs, you will learn how to monitor your own pulse and any symptoms related to coronary artery disease.
  • Ask for written instructions—including how fast your heart rate should be—so you can easily refer to them as you become more independent.
  • Support throughout your life is important. Joining an exercise group or a support group for nonsmokers may be helpful in maintaining lifestyle changes.
  • If you exercise at home, make sure a health professional checks your progress.
  • Education and support from nurses, dietitians, physical therapists, and doctors will help you continue making lifestyle changes during this phase.
  • In group programs, other people in the rehab program may become your support group and help you make lifestyle changes.

Exercise program

The following exercises are examples. Your exercise program depends on your medical history, clinical status, and symptoms and whether you have had heart problems or heart surgery. Discuss additional physical limitations or medical issues with your doctor before you begin any exercise program.

Your exercise program will include stretching, aerobic exercise, and strength training. A daily exercise routine is encouraged.

Stretching and flexibility

Stretching should be a part of your warm-up and cool-down every time you exercise. There are many benefits associated with an increase of flexibility, including an increase in the length of time that you can continue to be active.

  • Frequency: Do stretching exercises at least 3 days a week.
  • Intensity: Stretch to a position of mild discomfort.
  • Duration: Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Repetition: Do each stretch 3 to 5 times.
  • Type: Control and hold without resistance, with emphasis on the lower back and legs.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise in phase III rehab is a program designed for a lifetime of commitment. Make it enjoyable by choosing activities that you like. It is still important that you use your target heart rate and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and modify your intensity as you improve or encounter difficulties.

Example program






Aerobic (walking, swimming, biking, rowing, jogging)
  • Within target heart rate range
  • An RPE of 12 to 14
  • Until tolerance if no symptoms
  • Minimum of 3 to 4 times a week
  • Minimum of 5 days each week for weight loss
  • 15 to 60 minutes
  • Minimum of 45 to 60 minutes for weight loss
  • Increase heart rate.
  • Change type of activity.
  • Increase duration (gradually).

Strength training

Strength training continues to be an important part of your overall physical rehabilitation and conditioning. Gradually progress as you feel comfortable, but more important, combine it with your aerobic training. Be sure to monitor your progress toward your goals.

Continue to follow the recommendations on correct technique, breathing, and intensity to improve and/or keep your muscular strength and endurance.

Related Information


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Donald Sproule, MD, CM, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Richard D. Zorowitz, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Last Revised August 10, 2011

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