SASKATOON -- Cheryl Deforest is taking her heart health more seriously since her heart stopped.

She has diabetes and knew she was at risk of having heart complications, but never expected that to happen.

“When you die and come back it gives you pause. It makes you think about what your priorities are and how you are living your life.”

She is now one of the roughly 200 participants of the Fit Life program in Prince Albert, which sees 50 to 70 new referrals a year. It’s one of the programs to which the Saskatchewan Health Authority refers people who have survived cardiac arrests and other pulmonary events.

Doctors can also recommend the program to patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure and those recovering from surgery.

Fit Life offers graduated exercise monitored by exercise therapists with training in cardiac rehabilitation. The program monitors blood pressure, weight and blood sugar levels.

“They don’t really know what they are capable of doing or what they are supposed to be doing so it’s a matter of providing them those guidelines,” exercise therapist Dean Gaudet said.

“The biggest thing I hear is they feel way more confident in doing snow shovelling or just household tasks without fear of a re-injury or another heart attack and things like that.”

Fit Life therapists also provide home programs for people who can’t travel to the Alfred Jenkins Field House regularly. The program runs three times a week and is free to participants with a doctor’s referral.

“As you’re success level builds in the program. It’s easier to translate that into your normal life, even something like grocery shopping. I find it far easier to walk around the grocery store,” Deforest said.