Every January millions of Americans make a New Year’s resolution to exercise. The scientific evidence of the health benefits of exercise has been clear. Heart disease, diabetes and even cancer risk decreasing significantly with increasing exercise. Add one more disease to the list of those improved with exercise: Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart is not able to pump enough blood to meet the demands of the body. Symptoms of shortness of breath, fatigue and leg swelling occur. The causes are many including coronary artery disease, heart attack, hypertension, valvular heart disease and even stiffening of the heart that occurs with aging.

A recent publication in the prestigious journal Circulation confirmed the benefits of exercise to prevent the most common form of congestive heart failure, termed “heart failure with preserved ejection fraction” which is caused by stiffening of the heart muscle making it difficult for it to relax over time. The overall strength of the heart  (ejection fraction) remains strong in this situation, however the heart has a hard time filling with blood reducing the overall ability of the heart to pump enough blood with each heartbeat leading overall to a lower pumping output and eventually symptoms of congestive heart failure (CHF).

This study took middle aged individuals (average age 53) that were sedentary at baseline and randomized them to two years of exercise training versus no change in physical activity. Complex parameters of heart function were measured to detect changes in heart stiffness and overall function.

The group of study participants in the exercise arm had quite significant improvements in heart stiffness and overall “stroke volume”, the amount of blood pumped out with each heartbeat. Thus, researchers concluded that in previously sedentary middle aged adults, exercise training may prevent against the development of congestive heart failure.

Congestive heart failure remains the #1 reason in America for hospitalization, thus any intervention that can prevent CHF from developing in the first place would be very important. With dramatically increasing healthcare costs in the US, more cost efficient and effective interventions are desperately needed. The typical heart disease, coronary artery disease, is at least 80% preventable according to the World Health Organization and many say nearly 99% with strict diet and lifestyle interventions. Simple interventions like exercise can have a dramatic impact improving the health of America.

What better way is there to improve a person’s quality of life while decreasing healthcare costs besides preventing diseases from occurring in the first place? Take control of your health and focus on exercise and healthy eating changes to prevent the chronic diseases that are crippling America, now including congestive heart failure.

Steven Lome, DO

Steven Lome, DO, is a cardiologist with Rush Copley Cardiology with offices in Aurora and Yorkville.

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