York research identifies ideal amount of cardiac rehab for best patient outcome

a stethescope and a heart

Researchers from York University’s Faculty of Health and the University Health Network have found that heart patients who go to 36 sessions of cardiac rehabilitation require fewer stents, and patients who go to even 12 sessions may have lower chances of dying over the next few years.

Heart disease is among the leading burdens of disease and disability around the world. Many people living with heart disease have repeat heart problems, requiring hospitalization and heart interventions. Cardiac rehab programs are recommended to lower the chance of death and rehospitalization by 20 per cent.

Sherry Grace
Sherry Grace

It is known that more cardiac rehab is better, but no one has ever figured out how much is enough. In a new study, Sherry Grace, a professor in York’s Faculty of Health and senior scientist at University Health Network, set out to discover the minimum number of rehab sessions in which patients should take part to lower their risk of death or hospitalization for a heart event or procedure.

The research, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, reviewed published studies where patients received different doses of cardiac rehab. They carefully collected information from 33 studies on how many sessions of cardiac rehab patients were prescribed, recorded the corresponding deaths or hospitalizations and then pooled all the findings.

“Patients need to make sure they get referred to cardiac rehab, and then attend at least 12 sessions – although attending 36 would bring even better benefits,” said Grace. “Patients often report barriers to attending, and we need to do all we can to help patients overcome them so they fully participate.”

Currently there is no international standard on the “dose” of cardiac rehab required. In Ontario, programs generally offer two sessions per week over five months, or 40 sessions. In the United States they get 36.

Grace said patients would achieve the benefits if they fully take advantage of these cardiac rehab programs, though more study is needed to definitively set a minimum number of sessions.

“Cardiac rehab programs need enough resources in terms of space and staff to offer at least 36 sessions for patients,” she said.