Exercise Improves Heart Function In Elderly People With Heart Failure

November 10, 1997

Older people with chronic congestive heart failure can significantly improve their functional independence by exercising moderately three times a week, according to a study led by Johns Hopkins physicians.

The study showed that six months of aerobic exercise increased the physical fitness of a group of heart failure patients ages 61 to 91 by an average of 22 percent.

"Exercise training is highly recommended for young and middle-aged adults, yet the elderly are generally told to do nothing but rest," says Peter V. Vaitkevicius, M.D., lead author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine. "That can lead to frailty and loss of muscle tissue. We saw remarkable improvements in the functional capacity, strength and independence of the people enrolled in our study. Exercise was extremely beneficial for these patients, who were considered too old to improve and who were not helped sufficiently by medication."

Results of the study, supported by the Brookdale Foundation in New York, will be presented at 11:15 a.m., Nov. 10 at the American Heart Association's 70th annual Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Fla.

Researchers studied 40 patients with chronic congestive heart failure -- a disabling fatal form of heart disease in which the main pumping chamber of the heart becomes stretched and weakened -- as they participated in three aerobic exercise training sessions a week. Patients were monitored as they rode a stationary bicycle and walked on a treadmill.

The 17 patients who completed the six-month trial (43 percent) doubled the distance and time they were able to walk on the treadmill, and increased their muscle strength.

The majority of dropouts occurred because they lacked transportation to the training facility, not because of their heart disease.

"The severe disability seen in older heart failure patients can be addressed by increasing the availability of cardiac rehabilitation programs or by developing home- and community-based programs," Vaitkevicius says.

The study's other authors were Caroline Ebersold; Ziad Haydar, M.D.; Kerry J. Stewart, Ed.D.; and Jerome L. Fleg, M.D.

--JHMI--

Media contact: Karen Infeld (410)955-1534
E-mail: kinfeld@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

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Johns Hopkins Medicine

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