Some individuals who have recently had a heart attack or heart procedure can benefit from a higher intensity version of cardiac rehabilitation (CR), called intensive cardiac rehabilitation (ICR). Through a collaboration with Pritikin, ICR is now offered for the first time in Wisconsin by the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin St. Joseph’s Hospital and provides heart disease education and coaching to improve health.

This comprehensive program’s goals are to minimize the risk for a second heart event, prescribe exercise that improves cardiorespiratory fitness, encourage a heart-healthy diet and strengthen overall psychological well-being. Studies show that participants have a lower 1- to 5-year mortality rate than nonparticipants and a lower chance of mortality and myocardial infarction when attending the maximum number of CR sessions.

Overall, we want to help participants achieve an optimal level of health by educating and coaching them through personal risk factor modification strategies and improving their strength and stamina so they can return to doing normal activities sooner.

What’s Involved in Cardiac Rehabilitation?

People who have recently had a heart attack or heart surgery are often then referred for traditional CR. Medicare covers up to 36 sessions of traditional CR, which begins with a thorough health assessment completed by a nurse or exercise physiologist to identify personalized risk factors for heart disease. The sessions include:

  • An individualized exercise plan that progresses throughout the program
  • Education and support to incorporate heart-healthy diet plans and activities into their lifestyles
  • Blood pressure and blood glucose monitoring
  • Stress management counseling
  • Opportunities to interact with other individuals who are also recovering from a heart event

What’s Different in Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation?

While still including the same heart-healthy exercise as traditional CR, ICR is more focused on the holistic well-being of participants. The Medicare-approved program also provides individuals with double the amount of covered sessions compared to traditional CR, 72 versus 36. At these additional sessions, valuable lifestyle education is provided to teach individuals how to:

  • Cook nutritional and affordable meals
  • Become smarter at grocery shopping
  • Lose weight using evidence-based skills
  • Stop smoking
  • Manage stress
  • Improve personal and professional relationships

In addition to having registered nurses and exercise physiologists in the program, we also have a dedicated registered dietitian and a healthy mindset expert who have received specific program training at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami.

Enrolling in ICR is similar to enrolling in traditional CR, as you’ll still need a physician referral following a qualifying diagnosis. The CR team then discusses whether ICR is an option during your first CR appointment.

This program is available for individuals who have chronic heart failure, have had a heart attack within the last 12 months or have previously had a heart surgery, such as coronary artery bypass, a stenting procedure, heart valve repair or replacement or heart transplant.

Benefits of Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation

The Pritikin ICR program has documented improved patient outcomes in over 100 peer-reviewed studies, a necessity to be approved by Medicare. Some of these outcomes include:

  • 9% decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure within three weeks of starting ICR, which reduced or eliminated the need for hypertension medications for many
  • 20% decrease in cholesterol after two weeks of beginning ICR
  • 23% decrease in LDL cholesterol and 33% decrease in triglyceride levels within three weeks of starting ICR
  • Approximate 40% decrease in chronic inflammation within two to three weeks of starting ICR
  • 19% decrease in fasting glucose among diabetic patients, reducing the need for medication for many
  • An average weight loss of 7-11 pounds among overweight patients within the first two to three weeks of ICR

By offering these lifestyle education sessions that minimize participants’ risk factors for heart disease, combined with the proper prescribed exercise, ICR can be a choice program for individuals following a heart event. We do encourage each patient to consider ICR due to its scientifically proven benefits over traditional CR. We are proud to be the first in Wisconsin to offer this unique program with proven results for patients.

Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation Locations

The Froedtert & MCW health network offers heart and vascular care at several locations throughout southeastern Wisconsin. ICR is currently only offered at St. Joseph’s Hospital in West Bend, with plans to expand to Froedtert & MCW Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee and Froedtert & MCW North Hills Health Center in Menomonee Falls before the end of 2019.

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Rachel Kenitz, RN, BSN, BS
About the Author

Rachel Kenitz, RN, BSN, BS, is the manager of the Cardiac Rehabilitation programs at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network. She received her Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Marquette in 2004 and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2006. In summer 2019, Rachel traveled to the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami for intensive cardiac rehabilitation program management training. She has personally seen and experienced the benefits of the program and is truly excited to offer it to patients within the Froedtert & MCW health network.

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