Functional Strategies for Cardiac Rehabilitation: A Path to Recovery and Optimal Health

Functional Strategies for Cardiac Rehabilitation: A Path to Recovery and Optimal Health



Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year, over 800,000 Americans experience a heart attack, as reported by the American Heart Association. (1) This includes a growing number of people under 50 as stress levels increase and health statuses decline. While it’s important to consider what’s driving these statistics, it’s also essential to examine the approach being taken to recover one’s health after a cardiac event such as a heart attack. This article aims to explore the rising incidence of heart attacks, the traditional approach to cardiac rehabilitation, and the potential benefits of the Functional Patterns 10-Week Online Course in supporting individuals during their recovery journey.

Declining Cardiac Health


Cardiac health is deteriorating among younger populations, primarily due to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Unhealthy lifestyle choices contribute to the increasing prevalence of cardiac events among young adults.

Obesity has become an epidemic, placing strain on the heart and increasing the risk of hypertension, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease. High blood pressure, often due to poor diets, sedentary lifestyles, and stress, is another significant risk factor. The rise in type 2 diabetes among young adults, caused by unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles, also contributes to cardiovascular complications.

Sedentary lifestyles, inflammatory diets, and chronic stress contribute to this decline in cardiac health. Excessive consumption of processed foods full of grains and trans fats and inadequate protein intake worsen the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Stress from work, academics, and social pressures lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor sleep habits.

Traditional Cardiac Rehab


Cardiac rehabilitation is crucial in recovering from a heart attack and managing cardiovascular diseases. Participating in a comprehensive rehab program can help prevent future heart attacks and decrease the risk of death. Unfortunately, less than half of people who have had a cardiac event ever partake in a cardiac rehab program. (2)

Cardiac rehab lifestyle modifications commonly include smoking cessation, diet improvement, stress management, alcohol moderation, and weight loss. This seems like a common-sense approach that will address many of the underlying issues behind heart disease. 

However, what kind of training is best following a cardiac event? The suggested approach to cardiac rehab exercise is staged, with the first rehab phase beginning inpatient. The second phase of cardiac rehab is outpatient, and the third is independent training. Traditional suggestions for cardiac rehab exercises are focused primarily on cardiovascular conditioning and other low-impact training methods, such as yoga or stretching. 

Is this the only safe or effective approach for recovery from a heart attack? Which cardiac rehab exercises will provide long-term benefits? While there is certainly no danger in suggesting low-impact cardio, cardiac rehabilitation warrants a more intentional and long-term approach than telling someone to do low-impact cardio and engage in light stretching.

The heart muscle is like any other muscle and must be trained. Even though the cardiac rehab process may begin with short, assisted walks down the hall in the hospital, there must be increasing difficulty to continue improving cardiac health. 

The Efficiency Bonus of Functional Muscle


Cardiac rehab exercise programs aim to teach holistic health behaviors, address the need for progressive exercise, and implement stress management, which goes hand in hand with the Functional Patterns approach. However, FP may have more significant long-term benefits due to the specific nature of the training and the endless scalability of the system. Functional Patterns emphasizes the progressive improvement of movement patterns, building functional muscle, and implementing strategic lifestyle modifications to improve overall health. 

Building endurance and intensity at the proper pace is essential following a major health crisis such as a heart attack. Progressive challenges in regard to physical stressors are key. While engaging in low-impact cardio routines is commonly suggested, an intentional, progressive approach to resistance training will greatly improve overall health. The Functional Patterns 10-week course offers a safe, scalable, and progressive structure that can function as a cardiac rehab exercise plan. 

Functional Patterns also has an alternative viewpoint on cardio training. While it’s true that you can increase cardiovascular performance by training the aerobic system, you can also prepare the body to be more efficient in its movements, thereby reducing strain on the cardiovascular system. An effective cardiac rehab exercise plan will include appropriate cardiovascular conditioning and functional resistance training. 

Throughout the 10-week course, you’ll build muscle through the core, hips, glutes, lats, pecs, and spinal erectors. These muscles play a large role in facilitating strong posture and effortless movement. Moving more efficiently due to better postural balance and functional muscle mass results in more work being done by muscular drivers and decreasing the load on the heart. 

Lifestyle Strategies for Cardiac Rehabilitation


After a heart attack, the damaged heart tissue requires repair. Inflammation exists on a spectrum for healing, but excessive inflammation can cause further harm. Functional Patterns suggest various health protocols to lower inflammation, improve energy, and optimize health. These protocols include sobriety from substances, stress management, optimizing circadian rhythms, and anti-inflammatory nutrition. 

  1. Anti-inflammatory Nutrition: While some inflammation is healthy and even necessary for healing damaged tissues, excess inflammation contributes to cardiovascular events. Adopting a nutrition strategy that lowers systemic inflammation will support the healing of heart tissues. Specifically, limiting or eliminating grains and trans fats is essential. These two food groups are highly inflammatory both in the gut and systemically. 
    • Hydrogenated fats, also known as trans fats, are primarily polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) that were processed to become solid at room temperature. When heated, they oxidize easily. Numerous studies have shown a strong association between trans fat consumption and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including arterial damage. (3, 4) This means avoiding anything fried and throwing away any cheap “vegetable” oils you might have been cooking with.
    • Grains such as wheat, corn, rice, and barley can have several negative impacts on cardiovascular health when consumed on a regular basis. Research has shown that grains can inflame the intestinal barrier and promote a condition called leaky gut (5). Leaky gut is a condition in which the tight junctions of the gut remain open and allow proteins and particles to move into the bloodstream. This process leads to an over-activation of the immune system and chronic inflammation throughout the body. (6)
  1. Stress Management: Chronic stress can negatively impact cardiovascular health primarily by elevating blood pressure and increasing systemic inflammation, both damaging the arteries and inhibiting the healing process. Stress management techniques and activities that promote relaxation can aid in reducing stress levels and supporting heart health. 

A big part of Functional Patterns is using myofascial release (MFR) techniques, a form of self-massage. These techniques promote a more parasympathetic nervous system tone. The 10-Week Online Course's first 3 weeks are dedicated to myofascial release practice. This helps decrease stress, hydrate the soft tissues, and prime the body for training. Implementing a mindful practice like MFR can quiet the mind and promote relaxation. 

  1. Strengthen Circadian Rhythms: There is a definitive link between cardiac health and optimized circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are natural, 24-hour cycles that regulate various physiological processes in the body, including sleep-wake cycles, hormone production, body temperature, and metabolism. Disruptions in circadian rhythms, such as irregular sleep patterns or shift work, have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Establishing a regular sleep schedule and creating a sleep-friendly environment can improve sleep quality and quantity. Also, minimizing exposure to bright lights before bedtime will support the circadian rhythm.

  1. Sobriety: Quitting smoking is essential for cardiac rehabilitation and eliminating alcohol and other addictive substances. 

Smoking either cigarettes or marijuana is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. The compounds in smoke increase blood pressure, cause inflammation in the blood vessels, and promote the formation of fatty deposits in the arteries. (7) Marijuana use can lead to “cannabis-induced cardiovascular events” in susceptible individuals and cause chest pain, palpitations, and heart attacks. Alcohol use can also contribute to elevated blood pressure, weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), and arrhythmias. These substances directly affect the heart, even in individuals without cardiac issues. It’s important to consider sobriety for the best healing outcomes. 



Functional Patterns training methodology and lifestyle strategies offer a comprehensive approach to cardiac rehabilitation. In particular, the 10-week course offers a progressive training platform that is low-impact and holistic. By addressing functional movement patterns and postural imbalances and integrating lifestyle modifications, individuals can optimize their recovery from a heart attack, reduce the risk of future cardiac events, and enhance their overall quality of life. Adopting these holistic approaches can empower individuals to recover after cardiac events, take control of their health, and pursue optimal well-being.



  1. Heart Disease Facts |
  2. Cardiac rehabilitation - Mayo Clinic
  3. Katan MB, Zock PL, Mensink RP. Trans fatty acids and their effects on lipoproteins in humans. Annual Review of Nutrition. 1995 Jul;15(1):473-93.
  4. Mozaffarian D, Pischon T, Hankinson SE, Rifai N, Joshipura K, Willett WC, Rimm EB. Dietary intake of trans fatty acids and systemic inflammation in women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004 Apr 1;79(4):606-12.
  6. Grains, the uncomfortable truth – Functional Patterns
  7. Benefits of quitting smoking after heart attack - Heart Foundation

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