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Health Team

Duke study: Exercise good for patients with heart failure

Posted November 12, 2008 5:14 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2008 6:45 p.m. EST

— Exercise is good for most of us,  but doctors used to not recommend it for patients with heart failure.

With heart failure, the heart is enlarged and not pumping blood efficiently. The patient may get easily fatigued and short of breath.

For those patients, there was always a fear that exertion might deprive the heart of oxygen. However, Duke University researchers, conducting a five-year study of more than 2,000 patients with moderate to severe heart failure, have determined otherwise.

“Traditionally, we used to recommend the patient be at bed rest – rest the heart. It's weakened, it's drained,” said Dr. Chris O'Connor, a Duke cardiologist.

Heart-failure patient Perry Norris, 63, used to be on bed rest. But these days, exercise is a regular part of his life. At first, he says, it was difficult.

“I really didn't have a lot of stamina to keep going, and I did an exercise program that's just increased that,” Norris said.

“That exercise is safe. Exercise in this population did not result in an increase in serious adverse events,” O'Connor said.

Researchers compared patients who received standard care with a second group with standard care "plus" – a supervised and home-based exercise program. There was a modest decline in the risk of death or hospitalization, O'Connor said.

“It's increased my stamina,” Norris said.

Norris also says his life has became more enjoyable with exercise.

“Twice as many people had an important improvement in the quality of life,” O'Connor said.

O'Connor says the benefit was so great that a similar exercise training program should be prescribed for heart-failure patients and be covered by insurance.