Exercise Intensity Matters More than Amount for Patients with Heart Failure

Those who suffer from a heart disease are often told to exercise, as physical activity can benefit health even in people with heart failure. Yet it is unclear what is more important – high intensity or high amount of training – in such patients. A new study carried out by the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin sheds light on this issue.

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What did the study reveal?

The study in question analyzed what approach can be more beneficial for the patients diagnosed with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which is often abbreviated as HFpEF. The condition is widespread, but there is still no way to use pharmacological treatment to cure the disease or eliminate the symptoms. Patients with the conditions can benefit from exercising, but the issue of the most beneficial kind of physical activitiy is still a debatable one. It is important because people with heart problems find it hard to exercise, so, determining an activity that would be especially beneficial could be a solution for them.

To investigate what kind of PA improves the quality of life and alleviates the symptoms best, the team of researchers analyzed the health and physical activity of 422 patients,  52% of women among them (the participants were aged 59-75 years). They underwent echocardiography, a 6 minute walking test, and cardiopulmonary exercise testing. Besides, their quality of life was measured by means of a special questionnaire comprising of 36 items. All the participants were divided into three groups according to their level of physical activity (low/middle/high). The investigators found that there was a correlation between the total physical activity and physical function of quality of life, as well as with the distance which the participants covered within 6 minutes. There was no correlation with their peak oxygen uptake, though.

However, the most important part of the findings concerns the type of PA: it appears that those who reported intensive PA benefited much more, as their physical function of quality of life was much better, and the distance they could cover also increased to a great extent. In contrast, PA which was low-intensive did not show any statistically significant correlations.

Surprisingly, the investigators did not find any correlation between different kinds of PA and diastolic function.

What sports can I do?

If you suffer from a cardiovascular disease, you can benefit from going in for sports, but you should consult your GP or cardiologist to find out what sports you may be allowed to do in your particular case, as all patients have different condition peculiarities which can limit the range of beneficial activities.

Nevertheless, most patients with heart diseases can benefit from swimming, which is one of the most popular cardio sports. Other options include racket sports and aerobics. Actually, doing racket sports was associated with the most significant cardiovascular death risk reduction. Surprisingly, running and cycling did not prove to be as beneficial as the above mentioned sports. The study showed that aerobics can reduce cardiovascular death risk in adults by 36%, whereas swimming and racket sports showed the results of 41% and 56% respectively.

It seems like the best strategy to go in for sports, if you are already diagnosed with a heart disease or want to try to prevent it, is to opt for the following:

  • Walk as much as you can or cycle when there is such an opportunity instead of using private or public transport;
  • Go to a swimming pool. Regular swimming is beneficial in many ways;
  • Play racket sports with your spouse, relatives or friends. It appears to be a great way to benefit your health and enjoy your weekend.
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