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Stanford Medicine

Cardiovascular Medicine, Health and Fitness, Mental Health

Exercise may boost heart failure patients’ mental and physical health

Previous studies have shown that depression can be harmful to the heart and that being physically active can be effective in treating depression. Now findings recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association offer a closer look at the role exercise may play in alleviating depression and boosting cardiovascular health.

In the study (subscription required), over 2,300 heart failure patients were randomly assigned to receive either usual care, including necessary prescription medications and recommended exercise, or usual care plus participation in a supervised aerobic fitness program. The exercise regimen consisted of 30-minute sessions completed three times a week for three months. After three months, volunteers transitioned to an at-home program and encouraged to exercise 120 minutes a week for nine months.

Participants completed an initial physical stress test and surveys measuring depressive symptoms. These tests were repeated every three months for the first year. Individuals made quarterly follow-up clinic visits for the second year and then annual visits for the following two years of the trial. Futurity reports that researchers found:

The patients who participated in treadmill or stationary bike workouts showed greater improvement of their cardio-pulmonary function, as measured by peak oxygen consumption and longer duration of exercise, than patients who received usual care. Small improvements accrued at both three months and 12 months.

Depression scores were also better for participants in the exercise group compared to those who received standard care. The cardiac patients who exercised saw their average depression scores drop 1.75 points in the first three months, with lower scores signifying a healthier outlook. Patients in the usual care group dropped almost 1 point. Similar results were maintained throughout the 12-month assessment.

Previously: Study offers insights into how depression may harm the heart, Exercise may be effective in treating depression, Study shows depression may raise young adults’ risk of dying from heart disease and Study shows benefits of exercise for patients with chronic health conditions
Photo by Adelphi Lab Center

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