Regular Exercise for Patients with Heart Failure both Safe and Beneficial

April 14, 2009

A new study has found that regular exercise in patients with heart failure is not only safe, but may also lower the risk of hospitalization or death.

A new study has found that regular exercise in patients with heart failure is not only safe, but may also lower the risk of hospitalization or death.

Researchers with HF ACTION (Heart Failure — A Controlled Trial Investigating Outcomes of exercise traiNing) have found that patients who received routine care for heart failure as well as an exercise regimen were at “an 11 percent lower risk of all-cause death or hospitalization and a 15 percent lower risk of cardiovascular-related death or heart failure hospitalization,” according to study results.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that about five million people in the US have heart failure, and about 550,000 more are diagnosed with the condition each year. In addition, heart failure is the number one reason for hospital visits among people 65 and older.

HF ACTION studied 2,331 patients who had an average age of 59 and moderate-to-severe systolic heart failure for up to four years, but, on average, for two and a half years.

The first group, which included about half of all participants, received only regular care for heart failure, which included medical and device therapy, educational materials, and the guideline to participate in about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on “most days of the week.” The second group received “36 sessions of group-based, supervised aerobic exercise training (walking or stationary cycling) of up to 35 minutes three times per week” in addition to the usual care. Once they had transitioned to home-based care, they were told to continue that exercise regimen with the treadmill or stationary bike and heart monitor that was provided.

The second group had slightly fewer, but statistically non-significant, hospitalizations or deaths from any cause. However, when researchers adjusted the findings for the “strongest predictors of death or hospitalization—initial exercise capacity, history of atrial fibrillation, depression, cardiac pumping function, and cause of heart failure,” exercise training led to an 11 percent decrease in all causes of deaths or hospitalizations and a 15 percent decrease in cardiovascular-related hospitalizations or deaths.

In addition, when participants took a self-administered quality of life questionnaire, the exercise group reported “fewer physical and social limitations and symptoms, and improved quality of life after three months.”

However, the researchers note that the actual benefits of exercise may be underestimated in this study, because many of the patients who received only the usual care also exercised. Also, “adherence to prescribed exercise in the exercise training group was below goal in the majority of participants.”

Study findings were also published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.