Why Exercise May be Better Than Rest for Heart Patients

Cardiac rehabilitation programs that combine exercise and counseling are helping heart patients regain strength, get stronger and live healthier lives.

A recent decision by Medicare is now opening up supervised exercise and counseling programs to chronic heart failure patients — a decision that will affect 50 percent of patients living with heart failure.

A recent decision by Medicare is now opening up supervised exercise and counseling programs to chronic heart failure patients — a decision that will affect 50 percent of patients living with heart failure.

About 6.5 million Americans are living with chronic heart failure today. And according to the American Heart Association, an additional 650,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

Heart failure — with its accompanying shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling — can be a  debilitating and persistent conditions. For most people living with heart failure, everyday tasks that were once effortless — climbing stairs, grocery shopping or even walking to the mailbox — can be a struggle.

In the past, doctors mainly prescribed rest for heart failure patients. Cardiac rehabilitation programs, which combine exercise and counseling and encourage patients to get on their feet and get active, were reserved for those recovering from a heart attack or open-heart surgery.

But doctors are changing their tune when it comes to heart failure and exercise.

“People actually become weaker by resting,” explains Sharmisa Martin, MS, APRN, at Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health.  “The key element is to get people to their highest level of functioning,” she adds.

Stimulating the heart with exercise — especially the right level of exercise — helps the heart stay strong and increase its strength, according to Martin. And with a supervised, comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program recovering heart failure patients can exercise safely and develop a habit that will ultimately improve and prolong their lives.

There’s good news for many in need of cardiac rehabilitation — Medicare is now covering programs that combine exercise and counseling for a large number of heart failure patients.

A 2,300-patient study called HF-Faction found that three weekly exercise sessions over three months (a mere 36 sessions) helped decrease mortality and hospitalizations among patients with heart failure by 11 percent.

“Cardiac rehabilitation is the way to go. It’s there to help teach patients how to prevent further disease, how to be heart healthy,” says Karen Page, RN, Cardiac Rehabilitation at Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health. “The truth is everybody can do more than they are doing right now.”

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