Most patients, their families, and physicians recognize the need for exercise and heart-healthy nutritional education but they may not focus on the benefits of a healthy mind-set.

Often overlooked, prioritizing a healthy mind-set is crucial for recovering heart patients. It is so important that it is one of the three pillars of the Pritikin ICR program.

What makes up a healthy mind-set?

A healthy mind-set includes many things such as: a reduction in stress, managing your stress responses, modifying unhealthy behaviors, learning how to obtain positive changes through goal setting, managing your moods, and developing positive relationships.

How do our educational materials help patients prioritize a healthy mind-set?

Most heart patients will admit to having moderate to high levels of stress. They may have experienced stress prior to their heart event, but if not, their cardiac procedure led to a newfound stress. By attending an ICR program they learn how to identify stressful triggers and come away with tools and tactics to manage different types of stress in the future. The accompanying exercise routine built into the program also works to naturally reduce stress.

Heart patients often admit to feelings of depression or worry upon entering an ICR program. After a cardiac event, many experience negative thoughts and frustrations related to “no longer being able to….” which can make it difficult to feel optimistic or hopeful. The healthy mind-set education in an ICR program focuses on these types of emotions. Learning how to understand that these emotions are real and very common allows patients to develop plans to address them and set goals to measure successes as they overcome these emotions and return to a more normal lifestyle.

While working with patients I would often learn of strained relationships. These would vary in nature, ranging from family circumstances, work situations, friends, and particular social settings. Healthy mind-set education also focuses on how to manage these relationships to bring about a positive mind-set and hopefully a better relationship.

Patients begin cultivating a healthier mind-set upon their first time entering an intensive cardiac rehab program during the initial orientation session. During this initial meeting, patients work with a therapist to set goals for their recovery. Staff work with patients to identify the life-changing events that brought them to cardiac rehab. They make a point to listen, discuss, reassure, and plan out a path for the adventure that lies before the patient, support, and care teams.

Recognizing Improvements

As patients work their way through the 36 visits of their ICR journey and apply what they’ve learned to their everyday lives, they begin to recognize improvements related to their exercise tolerance and dietary habits. Noticing a positive shift in mind-set is often a more subtle, less obvious change. Often, these improvements are not fully recognized until the last few sessions of the cardiac rehab program. As the program nears its finale, patients tend to reflect on and appreciate their new outlook on life, acknowledging improvements in their mood, and in their relationship with themselves as well as those in their life.  Many times, patients will share this newfound mind-set with the cardiac rehab team and even those patients that they have bonded with during their time in the rehab program.

Reflecting on many years of working with patients, I don’t recall all the physical improvements that my patients obtained. I know there were many. However, what sticks out is how I would feel when those patients expressed their gratitude for all their improvements. Most of them exuded infectious joy along with their renewed self-confidence. They were excited to be able to return to life and experience things that not too long ago, had seemed like something they would never experience again. I always appreciated the opportunity to speak with patients who would return months and years after their cardiac rehab graduations, just to say thanks, and share all their recent experiences. Their stories are a testament to the importance of working towards a healthy mind-set. Patients might not remember everything we told them, or everything we did, but they would always remember how we made them feel.