Skip to Main Content

Expanded Cardiac Rehab Guides Patients to Achieve Healthier Lives

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States – more than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined. This despite advances in surgeries/procedures and prescribed medication. The reason is the difficulty in addressing the third component – lifestyle change – according to the American Heart Association.

Metro Health – University of Michigan Health has expanded its outpatient cardiovascular rehabilitation into a 5,000 square-foot space complete with varied exercise equipment, a kitchen with weekly classes on healthy cooking, and staffed with six exercise physiologists, a nurse, and a dietician – all supervised by cardiologist, Dr. Barbara Karenko, and nine additional cardiologists.

With expanded hours of 7:00am to 6:00pm, Monday through Friday, the rehab facility sees 128 patients a day for exercise, education and monthly meetings with a cardiologist, who also receives regular reports on patients’ progress in the program.

This program is the Pritikin© Intensive Cardiac Rehab and Metro Health – University of Michigan Health is the only hospital in West Michigan and second in the state to offer it.

Patients follow individualized exercise regimens and are monitored while on the machines. They exercise and attend classes on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. (Pritikin© Certified cooking classes in the recently opened instruction kitchen are on Thursday as well.) It is 50 minutes of structured, monitored exercise with an additional 45 minutes of education which includes videos on health and risk reduction with 16 patients per class. They have one-on-one meetings with their care teams on Wednesday and Friday.

According to Melissa Cook, Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Program Director, patients enroll for three to four months. After they have achieved their goals, established in consultation with the cardiologists and the rehab staff, they graduate on to a maintenance program. Rehab patients range in age from 21 to 96 and 53 have graduated since the program began early in 2019. The cardiac program has the highest compliance rate in the nation with a 70 percent graduation rate. (The Pritikin© national average graduation for intensive cardiac rehab is currently 39 percent.)

“We celebrate our patients’ progress and make a big deal of their graduation,” Cook says. “Each receives a ‘Heart of Gold’ t-shirt; we ring a giant gong so that everyone can join in the congratulations, and their names are added to our ‘heart healthy honor roll.’” She added that cardiac rehab patients often become good friends and a few romances have actually blossomed during and after the program.

Metro Health’s Cardiovascular Rehabilitation is a comprehensive exercise, education and lifestyle change program that can begin immediately after an individual is diagnosed with a heart condition. Recent studies have shown that people who complete a cardiovascular rehab program can increase their life expectancy up to five years.

Benefits of cardiac rehab include:

  • Improving strength, endurance and physical function
  • Increasing quality of life
  • Lessening chance of another heart attack
  • Controlling heart disease symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Stopping or reversing damage to blood vessels in the heart
  • Improving ability to perform daily activities

The Cardiovascular Rehabilitation program at Metro Health includes:

  • Individualized Pritikin© Certified treatment plans
  • EKG monitoring during supervised exercise sessions
  • Heart-healthy nutrition and cooking classes
  • Cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes monitoring and control
  • Weight and stress management
  • Tobacco cessation
  • Risk modification education classes for patients and family members

Dr. Karenko, the program’s lead cardiologist, says that “committing to a comprehensive rehab program is just as important to patients’ recovery as their medical treatment and medicine and can lead to a life that is much healthier and happier.”

The Cardiovascular Rehabilitation program is part of Metro Health’s newly expanded Heart and Vascular facility. Metro Health recently received the Platinum Performance Achievement Award from the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) and was named among the nation’s top performing hospitals for treating heart attack patients, specifically for its commitment and success in implementing a higher standard of care and for reaching an aggressive goal of treating these patients at standard levels of care outlined by the ACC/AHA.

For information about the Metro Health’s Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Program, or to learn if you qualify for Medicare Part B coverage for the program, talk to your Metro Health physician or visit