Cardiac Rehab: General Exercise Guidelines for Phase III

The following exercise guidelines for phase III cardiac rehab may vary depending on your medical history, clinical status, and symptoms and whether you have had heart problems or heart surgery. These are just guidelines. Discuss additional physical limitations or medical issues with your doctor before you begin any exercise program.

Your rate of recovery depends on age, gender, and other health conditions. Depending upon your condition and how you respond to rehab, you may stay in a particular phase or move back and forth among the various phases. There is no set length of time that you must stay in a specific phase.

Phase III cardiac rehab program

Phase III is often referred to as the maintenance phase of cardiac rehab because it emphasizes long-term lifestyle issues. The program will help you practice and keep healthy behaviors and habits to continue to improve your existing heart condition or to keep your risk of heart disease low. Regularly communicate with your rehab staff and doctors for periodic reviews and assessments.

Phase III exercise program

Your exercise program will include stretching, aerobic exercise, and strength training. A daily exercise routine is encouraged.

  • Length: Lifetime
  • Physical goals: Maintain your aerobic capacity, overall strength, and flexibility.

Flexibility exercises

Stretching should be a part of your warm-up and cooldown every time you exercise. There are many benefits associated with an increase of flexibility, including an increase in the length of time that you can continue to be active.

General guidelines for flexibility exercises

  • Frequency: Do stretching exercises at least 3 days a week.
  • Intensity: Stretch to a position of mild discomfort.
  • Duration: Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Repetition: Do each stretch 3 to 5 times.
  • Type: Control and hold without resistance, with emphasis on the lower back and legs.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise in phase III rehab is a program designed for a lifetime of commitment. Make it enjoyable by choosing activities that you like. It is still important that you use your target heart rate and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and modify your intensity as you improve or encounter difficulties. Use this Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate?

Aerobic exercise






Aerobic (walking, swimming, biking, rowing, jogging)
  • Within target heart rate range
  • An RPE of 12 to 14
  • Until tolerance if no symptoms
  • Minimum of 3 to 4 times a week
  • Minimum of 5 days each week for weight loss
  • 15 to 60 minutes
  • Minimum of 45 to 60 minutes for weight loss
  • Increase heart rate.
  • Change type of activity.
  • Increase duration (gradually).

Strength training

Strength training continues to be an important part of your overall physical rehabilitation and conditioning. Gradually progress as you feel comfortable, but more important, combine it with your aerobic training. Be sure to monitor your progress toward your goals.

Continue to follow your doctor's guidelines about correct technique, breathing, and intensity to improve and/or keep your muscular strength and endurance.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Richard D. Zorowitz, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Last Revised October 5, 2010

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