Orlando, FL- The first US controlled study of exercise programs for people who have survived serious heart attacks suggests there are measurable benefits but does not prove conclusively that exercise reduces death rates.
The study was reported here to the American Society of Contemporary Medicine and Surgery by Dr. John Naughton, dean of the State University of New York (Buffalo) School of Medicine.
"These findings may not satisfy either those who are for or against exercising post-cardiac patients," he said. "For those who believe exercise is the answer, we must point out that it is no cure-all. On the other hand, there are specific benefits and there is nothing to indicate that exercise should not be encouraged."
The study was concluded in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Atlanta, Birmingham and Washington, D.C. Half of the 651 men in the study began a prescribed exercise program two to 14 months after a major heart attack; the others did not.
All those selected for the study had recovered from their heart attacks with no complications," Dr. Naughton reported. "They were not taking medications which might have masked symptoms or warning signals."
After stress testing, a physician developed a progression of games, calisthenics and circuit training for each patient. It was important, Dr. Naughton said, to exercise in a facility supervised by a physician who could keep the patient from overexertion.
"We demonstrated that trained cardiac patients can get into condition and that they have enhanced work capacity and a higher symptom-free activity level," Dr. Naughton said. "There were generally lower blood pressures and a reduction of some blood fats.
"There was a lower mortality rate in the exercise group but not at a level we would consider statistically significant.
"In both groups, patients gained weight, and cigarette consuption rose slightly. Both needed the same amount of surgery and medication and were rehospitalized at about the same rate."
He said there was one important benefit seen in the exercised group: a greater sense of well being "that may be out of proportion to actual improvement. A patient may improve by only 20 percent but will feel a heck of a lot better. "
This can create risks if the post-cardiac patient fails to recognize his continuing limitations, because proceeding at too fast a rate may aggravate the underlying problem.
"Exercise has positive effects, but it should be recommended with caution, aware that the case is not yet proven," Dr. Naughton concluded.