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Nov 06, 2013

Heart Failure Patients Benefit from Vigorous Exercise

High-intensity exercise programs are safe and improve fitness in heart failure patients, according to Australian research study.

Doctors often worry that high-intensity exercise could trigger cardiac events in patients with heart failure. After all, patients with heart failure already have a compromised heart, which can’t pump enough blood throughout their body. Get a patient’s heart rate up and you may push their body past its natural limits. But a study conducted in Australia suggests that vigorous exercise benefits heart failure patients the greatest, without increased risk of complications.

Recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this paper analyzed 73 studies conducted between 1985 and 2012, all of which tested the use of exercise programs in heart failure patients. Exercise therapies ranged from low to high intensity and nearly 6,000 heart failure patients were included in the analysis.

Despite concerns about exercise training, researchers found that there were no deaths in the study follow-up that were due to exercise, regardless of intensity. Also, compared to patients who didn’t participate in exercise therapy, investigators found that those participating in high-intensity exercise programs saw the greatest health benefits from the training. While patients in the low-intensity programs saw just a 7% improvement in fitness compared to those who didn’t participate in an exercise program, subjects with high-intensity training saw a 23% improvement in markers of fitness.

Vigorous exercise is certainly not appropriate for all patients, especially those with severe heart failure, but this study gives experts some food for thought. Despite widespread beliefs that high-intensity exercise programs are unsafe and impractical for heart failure patients, maybe our fears are unfounded. It’s possible that the greater the intensity, the more patients have to gain from exercise therapy. However, it will take additional research to confirm whether vigorous exercise is safe for patients and most importantly, identify which patients high-intensity training is right for.
Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are common heart failure symptoms?

  • Heart failure symptoms often present themselves slowly but progress and worsen over time. These symptoms include shortness of breath; swelling of feet, ankles or abdomen; fatigue; cough and weight gain.
  • 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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