NCMA Healthy Insights

Heart Health at HeartWorks

by Thomas E. Dunlap, MD
To minimize the effects of heart disease and achieve an optimal quality of life, a cardiovascular rehabilitation program is just what the doctor ordered.

A solid foundation for a cardiovascular rehabilitation program is found in gradual, positive changes that embrace new lifestyle patterns. The rehabilitation program at HeartWorks improves the patient’s strength, stamina and confidence level. Patients learn how to modify their diet, exercise, reduce stress and quit smoking. Many graduates claim they feel better than they have in years.

A heart attack at the age of 45 in 1994 made John Barnett a believer in the desperate need to change his lifestyle.

A supervised exercise program in which electronic equipment monitors his heart rate has made this high-tech industry manager from Santa Rosa a devotee of the HeartWorks program.

“True, I could go to a gym and get a similar experience,” said Barnett, who is now 30 pounds lighter and barely breaks a sweat playing volleyball and softball. “But coming here gets me more engaged in making lifestyle and diet changes and managing stress. Good, solid answers keep me from doing something stupid.”

For fellow clinic client Tom Kelly, that meant eliminating his beloved two-doughnut breakfast after two stents were installed in his arteries a few years ago.

“I feel lucky because it seems like everybody who works out around me has had bypass surgery,” said Kelly, a Santa Rosa attorney. “You pick up a lot of information about related health issues, like your blood pressure, while you’re on the treadmill.”

Successful rehabilitation begins with the patient. The attitude, goals and determination each individual brings to the challenge focuses on the goals that are important to him or her – returning to work, traveling, staying independent or simply feeling good. With a cardiovascular rehabilitation program, patients establish patterns for a new approach to life – and, in the process, learn to temper enthusiasm with patience.

HeartWorks records about 1,000 client visits a month. This “church of the second chance,” as exercise physiologist Jennifer Richardson dubs it, provides structured monitoring for patients who have had bypass surgery, valve replacement, angioplasty, heart attacks, stents or cholesterol problems.

At HeartWorks, each client is guided by an exercise and diet plan developedDustin Maul HeartWorks trainerspecifically for that individual. Physicians, nurses, and cardiac exercise specialists closely supervise each aspect of rehabilitation activity. No other programs in Northern California have cardiologists on call at their cardiovascular rehabilitation center. This synergy not only makes it a safer place for patients, but enhances each patient’s rehabilitation process.

Many referring physicians throughout Sonoma County often mention that the HeartWorks programs differ from those promoted by advocacy groups because they offer a higher level of expertise, the curriculum meets medical standards and the center follows up with the physician’s office so, next visit, doctor and patient can discuss progress, or the lack of it.

HeartWorks has a formalized process of tracking the patients’ progress and this helps patients from falling through the cracks as their physicians become aware of which patients do and do not complete the class.

Cardiac rehabilitation programs at HeartWorks are usually conducted in progressive phases. Phase I includes the education and guidance the patient received while in the hospital or directly from a physician before entering the program.

In Phase II, patients participate in a fully monitored, individualized exercise and education program lasting from three to 12 weeks, during usual business hours.

Each workout begins with warm-up exercises followed by aerobics, which may include the stationary bicycle, treadmill, stepper, arm crank or rowing machine. The exercise sessions conclude with cool-down stretching.

Medical assessments include EKG monitoring, blood pressure measurement, oxygen saturation and body composition.

During workouts, patients become more aware of their body’s capabilities. They learn about target heart rate, levels of exertion and how to modify their exercise to fit their needs.

The education program is ultimately designed to help the patient reduce his or her personal cardiac risk factors. The format may include one-on-one counseling, books, pamphlets, videos or written homework.

Phase III and IV programs are offered in partnership with The Center for Well Being, the North Bay’s premier health education and wellness center. Phase III offers a supervised program to help people with a history of cardiac disease improve their wellness with a series of two 75-minute sessions per week. Phase IV is a long-term commitment to exercise that is self-directed.

HeartWorks works closely with the Center for Well-Being, referring many patients to their myriad of classes and services. The Center for Well-Being offers individual and group education, chronic disease management, personal training, nutritional counseling, wellness coaching and small group exercise instruction. For more information go to www.norcalwellbeing.org. For more information about HeartWorks, call 707-573-6161.

Read Dr. Dunlap’s article in NCMA Healthy Insights Magazine