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Aug 09, 2011

Exercise Benefits for Heart Failure Patients

Overall, exercise is safe and improves quality of life for heart failure patients.

Heart failure is a serious and chronic heart condition affecting nearly 5 million Americans. Heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body, causing symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and swelling of the feet, ankles and abdomen. Although treatable with lifestyle modification, medication and/or medical procedures, heart failure worsens over time, diminishing quality of life.

To address this issue, doctors have searched for effective ways to reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life for heart failure patients. Aside from the widely practiced treatments mentioned above, the use of exercise training is a novel heart failure treatment that may have more benefits than initially realized.

In an article recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Boston researchers reviewed past studies and addressed the many challenges inherent to exercise training treatment. In this paper, they report that among the breadth of research conducted on exercise training, most have confirmed its safety and shown significant health benefits and improved quality of life in patients. In fact, both the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association now recommend exercise training in conjunction with other heart failure treatments, based on research. However, certain challenges lie ahead in implementing the widespread use of exercise in all heart failure patients.

First, improvements must be made to insurance coverage, so that cardiac rehabilitation and exercise training are covered at minimal or no cost to patients. Standard guidelines are also needed regarding exercise programming, specifying intensity and modality of exercises for a range of patients. Lastly, referral to exercise programs must be increased, and methods to improve adherence to exercise regimens must be determined. Together, these changes can help in widely implementing the use of exercise as an auxiliary treatment for heart failure, improving the health and quality of life for the millions of Americans currently living with heart failure. 

Read this Article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Who is at risk for heart failure?

  • Risk for heart failure increases with age, and is most common in patients with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as arrhythmia or history of heart attack. 

  • What type of exercise is recommended for heart failure patients?

  • Aerobic activity in varying degrees of intensity for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days a week is often recommended for heart failure patients. However, resistance training has also been shown to be beneficial for heart failure patients, in addition to stretching/breathing exercise, such as tai chi and yoga.


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