Heart failure and exercise

April 7, 2009 4:26:10 PM PDT
Millions of Americans have suffered heart failure and aren't sure they should exercise afterward. A new study in the Journal of American Medical Association says not only is it safe, it's recommended. Heart failure is a serious condition for more than 5 million Americans. They've reached the point where their heart doesn't pump the blood to the rest of the body very well. Sufferers can get shortness of breaths and ankle swelling, so it's not surprising that they think exersise is not something they should do. The new information says otherwise.

Walking was not something Lise Coleman did when she was first diagnosed with heart failure.

"They told me to do nothing, basically," she said. "They didn't want me to even lift a basket of clothes. I was scared to do anything."

"The standard of practive used to be, you have heart failure, go home, sit and do no activity at all," said Dr. Gordon Blackburn, of the Cleveland Clinic.

But Lise is now exercising, in spite of her diagnosis. She was part of a study of more than 2,300 people with heart failure. Half of the patients were on usual care therapy, continuing the same way they'd always been treated. The other half took part in a supervised exercise routine, which included using a treadmill and a stationary bike.

The results of the 30-month study appera in the Journal of the American Association.

"First and foremost, we showed that exercise training is safe in patients with advanced heart disease," said Dr. Chirstopher O'Connor, from the Duke Clinical Research Institute. "Second, we showed a modest improvement in clinical outcomes, a reduction in hospitalization or death."

The patients in Lise's group, the exercisers, had 15 percent fewer deaths and hospitaizations. They also reported improvement in their quality of life.

"The difference between the two groups was modest, but it was statistically significant," Dr. Kathryn E. Flynn said. "And the improvements occurred early, and they were sustained over time."

Lise is enthused about her results.

"When you feel good, you can do more," she said. "So exercise has been life changing for me."

A lifestyle intervention is very difficult to maintain for two and a half years, particularly in patients who have not exercised regularly before. But the good results can be great motivation. Experts warn that no patient should start an exercise program without first checking with a physician.

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King


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