Why women need cardiac rehabilitation

As you know from our website and our newsletters, heart disease is the primary cause of death for both men and women and every year more than 55,000 Australians have a heart attack. That’s one person every 10 minutes.

You might be surprised to know that heart disease kills 3 to 4 times more women than breast cancer.

Many people who have a heart attack go on to require heart surgery. Survivors of both heart attack and heart surgery require extensive rehabilitation to support their physical and psychological recovery.

Why is cardiac rehabilitation important?

After a heart attack or heart surgery, all patients should be encouraged to attend cardiac rehabilitation (CR). Attending a cardiac rehabilitation program – which comprises both education and exercise sessions held weekly over about 6-10 weeks - helps patients avoid another heart event, quickens recovery, improves quality of life, reduces depression, and helps people get back to work and activities that they enjoy. Most importantly, attending cardiac rehabilitation halves the risk of premature death. Unfortunately, only one in three patients attend cardiac rehabilitation, and women are less likely to attend than men.

Why are women less likely to attend cardiac rehabilitation?

As you can imagine, heart patients rely heavily on the advice of their cardiologists and heart specialists, and referral by specialists is one of the strongest factors in patients’ decisions about whether or not to attend cardiac rehabilitation. Sadly, many specialists - and patients alike - believe that cardiac rehabilitation is more appropriate for men than women. This is due to both the perception that heart disease is more of a 'male' disease and because of the emphasis on moderate to high intensity exercise in many cardiac rehabilitation programs.  Most cardiac research has focussed on men and treatment programs have been developed accordingly, with cardiac rehab programs typically involving male-oriented exercises involving weights and treadmills.

Women themselves say “I don’t want to go, I’ll be the only woman there” and “I won’t be able to lift those heavy weights!”


Women need cardiac rehabilitation!


Research evidence shows that attendance at cardiac rehabilitation is just as beneficial for women as it is for men, and it is just as important that women are encouraged to attend. Clearly we need to make cardiac rehabilitation more ‘female-friendly’ and that this includes making the exercises and the CR environment more tailored to women’s needs and preferences.


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Female-friendly cardiac rehabilitation

In order to address women's reluctance to attend cardiac rehabilitation, as well as health professionals’ resistance to referral of women to cardiac rehab, we are developing a women-only cardiac rehabilitation program which will incorporate female-friendly low intensity exercises. A recent analysis of nine trials demonstrated that yoga, for example, is as effective as more strenuous exercise for improving cardiovascular risk.

We will trial our women-only cardiac rehab program during 2019 - but we can’t do this alone.

With the support of people like you, we can start offering this program to women after their heart events.  If shown to be acceptable and effective, our women-only cardiac rehabilitation with female-friendly exercises could be offered nationwide.

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 Flyer: Reasons why women need cardiac rehabilitation <download here>