Take it easy? Patients should start exercise just a week after heart attack, claim doctorsBy Claire Bates
Last updated at 11:42 AM on 15th April 2011
You might expect doctors to advise people who have just had a heart attack to lie back and take it easy for the next few months. But a new study has found it is far better to start exercising a week after the life-changing event.
Researchers at the University of Alberta found early and prolonged exercise is the key to the best health outcomes for stable patients.
The team led by Mark Haykowsky and Alex Clark, reviewed more than 20 years of trials.
'While it’s been shown that exercise has a favourable effect on heart function, it’s also important to dispel the idea that what the heart needs is rest,' said Dr Haykowsky.
In the UK, patients are invited to attend a cardiac rehabilitation programme at their local hospital four to eight weeks after leaving hospital.
For those who waited to begin their exercise rehabilitation program, the results showed that 'for every week that a patient delayed his or her exercise treatment, he or she would have to train for the equivalent of one month longer to get similar benefits,' said Dr Clark.
Adding: 'Our findings suggest that at least six months of exercise is the most beneficial.'
The authors said that though the concerns were understandable, there was no evidence in the study to suggest that beginning an exercise program earlier that the typical waiting period was harmful.
'In the 70’s, health-care professionals were telling patients not to move for three months after a heart attack. Our findings suggest that stable patients need not wait a month to start exercising in a cardiac-rehabilitation setting,' said Clark.
'Exercise is a wonder drug that hasn’t been bottled,' Dr Haykowsky added.
Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, told Mail Online: 'Newer treatments mean heart patients often suffer less damage during heart attacks than they used to and so they may benefit from starting formal exercise programmes known as cardiac rehabilitation sooner. But we’d need experts in cardiac rehab in the UK to ensure this is implemented safely.
'Our real priority should be ensuring all patients get access to cardiac rehabilitation at all. We know it saves lives and is cost effective, yet provision and uptake is still patchy across the UK.'
Professor Bob Lewin, heads the British Heart Foundation Care and Education Research Group at the University of York.
He said: 'This is a very interesting review and confirms what has been advocated for many years, that rehabilitation should begin as soon as possible after a heart attack.
'Unfortunately cardiac rehabilitaiton has never been properly funded and in other areas there may be a waiting list to be able to join a programme.'