Dr. Sherry Grace
Dr. Sherry Grace, Senior Scientist at Toronto Rehab, studied women’s adherence to traditional co-ed and home-based cardiac rehab versus women-only programs.(Photo: UHN)

Heart disease is among the leading causes of disability for Canadian women. Yet only two-thirds participate in cardiac rehab programs, despite the fact they can reduce death by 26 percent.

Cardiac rehab is an approximately five-month program designed to support patients to adopt a healthy lifestyle and ensure they are taking the right medications to reduce their chances of suffering another heart attack.

New research by Dr. Sherry Grace, Senior Scientist at Toronto Rehab, along with her team at York University, compared the adherence and outcomes of co-ed rehab, women-only rehab, and home-based rehab programs, in an effort to understand what attracts women to one over another.

"There have been calls to deliver women-only cardiac rehab programs to engage more patients to participate, but we are among the first to test if offering these programs will truly address women's barriers to attending," Dr. Grace says.

Feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness of their bodies, low levels of ability, and lack of exercise experience have all been identified as barriers to women's desire to participate in co-ed programs.

However, Dr. Grace and her team found that regardless of the program type, women attended only half of their prescribed rehab sessions, although attending women-only programs did appear to result in better mental health for patients. This is important because upwards of a third of female heart patients are depressed or anxious, and tend not to do as well.

Overall, this suggests that other proven strategies, such as self-monitoring, action-planning, and counseling, need to be applied more widely to drive women toward attending all the sessions to reap the proven health benefits, Dr. Grace says.

The research was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings and the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.The research is funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

Read the study findings for more details. ​

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