Heart Rehab Works -- If You Go

Cardiac rehab significantly lowers mortality risk

(RxWiki News) Cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack, surgery or for a heart condition can help patients live longer. This is especially true in the least fit patients --but they have to show up.

Only about half of patients referred for cardiac rehab bother to go, even though improving fitness can significantly reduce a patient's risk of mortality.

"Exercise regularly to strengthen a weakened heart."

Dr. Billie-Jean Martin, a cardiac surgery resident at the University of Calgary's Libin Cardiovascular Institute, said increasing attendance rates at cardiac rehabilitation programs is critical. She said that those who have the most to gain including the elderly and patients who live a sedentary lifestyle are the least likely to show up.

"Now we can tell them they'll live longer. I like to tell patients our surgery takes four hours. You have the rest of your life to treat this disease," Dr. Martin said.

Researchers at the Cardiac Wellness Institute of Calgary conducted a study of 2,867 patients with coronary artery disease who participated in cardiac rehabilitation between 1996 and 2010.

After enrolling, patients were measured for weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol. Then their fitness level was tested on a treadmill before they were classified into groups based on those assessments that included low fitness, moderate fitness and high fitness.

Participants then attended 12 weeks of rehabilitation, which included aerobic, strength and stretching exercises. They also took their prescribed medication and attended nutrition and stress management education sessions. Patients were reassessed after 12 weeks, and 1,696 participants returned for an additional treadmill test one year later.

Investigators found that the higher the level of fitness, the lower the risk of death over a 15 year period. But for patients who are out of shape, the survey found that even small steps were helpful and could result in a significant reduction in mortality risk.

The research was recently presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2011, co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.

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Review Date: 
October 21, 2011