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Regular Physical Activity Improves Health of Older Adults With Heart Disease

Regular Physical Activity Improves Health of Older Adults With Heart Disease

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  • Older adults with heart disease suffer from loss of confidence and an inability to perform simple tasks.
  • Regular physical activity can lower heart disease symptoms and improve confidence of older adults.
  • Certain medications for heart disease can affect physical health of older adults, making them dependent.

Older adults with heart disease are found to benefit in terms of heart health, quality of life as well as confidence, from regular physical activity. This study was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation and is a new American Heart Association scientific statement.


Older adults choose a more sedentary way of life. This study hopes to raise awareness about the fact that when there is sufficient physical activity, it aids in
  • Lowering heart disease symptoms
  • Lowering risk of heart failure, stroke or heart attacks
  • Reducing frailty
  • Improving erosions of strength associated with age
This study shows that physical activity is important in maintaining good health among older adults. As Dr. Daniel E. Forman, a geriatric cardiologist said, health care providers are more tuned to managing diseases such as heart attacks, heart failure, strokes and valvular diseases with medicines. Dr. Forman, who chaired the American Heart Association panel which was responsible for drafting the new statement said, that most health care practitioners did not directly focus on aiding patients on improving their physical function.

Most people who suffer a heart attack are often advised to refrain from carrying any weight, which can cripple the quality of life being led. Dr. Forman said that after a heart attack, most patients wish to regain their physical activity which will give them their independence and let them carry out simple chores like carrying a grocery bag to their car.

Aerobic Fitness

Aerobic fitness can be used to determine how effectively oxygen is transported during a period of prolonged exercise. This fitness tends to become insufficient with advancing age.

Older adults with heart disease are therefore physically at a disadvantage due to
  • Increased risk for frailty
  • Slow walking
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Exhaustion
  • Lower levels of physical activity
These physical disabilities prevent the individual from returning to an active and independent life post cardiac arrest or a cardiac event, even if they are being treated with appropriate medication.

Stressing the need to carry out physical activity to improve the health of older patients and the quality of life that they lead, Dr. Foreman said that this will especially hold true among patients who are in their 70s or 80s.

Cardiac rehabilitation

Another important method of aiding elderly patients in regaining their health and function is through cardiac rehabilitation. These programs provide
  • Counseling for exercises
  • Adequate assistance in training for better health
  • Ways to manage stress and depression
  • Sufficient counseling on proper nutrition
  • Methods of tobacco cessation
Such strategic assistance provided to older adults will help them gain stamina as well as confidence after hospitalization or illness. The most alarming aspect is that, on a national note, only one-third or fewer older adults with heart disease receive such care.

Dr. Foreman said that cardiac rehabilitation is not often prescribed, though while treating patients who are in their 70s, 80s or 90s, they are often prescribed stress medications and procedures while the need to get these patients back on their feet is not emphasized.

Tailor Physical Activity

The health care providers of older cardiac patients should focus on personal needs and goals of the patient when prescribing therapy, even in the absence of cardiac rehabilitation.

The recommendations included in the statement are
  • Resistance and balance training which will aid in lowering the risk of falls
  • Walking every day for better health
  • Yoga and tai chi for aerobic and strength training
  • Carrying out additional tasks or chores at home
The use of medicines in the treatment of cardiac diseases has always been the main method of treatment; however, the medications could sometimes affect the daily functions of the patient. Some of the physical disabilities associated with these cardiac drugs are
  • Muscle pain due to cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Fatigue due to anti-ischemic drugs
  • Dehydration, dizziness and falls due to blood pressure drugs
Dr. Forman said that most cardiac patients take at least 10 medications by the time they reach 75 year of age; this can lead to a cumulative effect on the health of the individual. Every patient should be made aware of the risk of lowered physical activity that is associated with each drug, as it will help them make an informed choice, and help them tailor their physical activity accordingly.

The onus should be on the medical practitioner to devise methods which will help the patient maintain normal physical activity. The physical capability of the patient should be assessed during every visit and a decline in physical activity should be noted. Loss in function after hospitalizations should also be assessed, along with details about reduction in muscle mass and functional setback.

There is an immediate need to ensure that older patients maintain a healthy lifestyle and are physically independent. This will help them maintain dignity as age advances.

Exercise and Cardiac disease

A study conducted by Dr. Douglas Darden and colleagues, titled "Physical Activity and Exercise for Secondary Prevention among Patients with Cardiovascular Disease", described the importance of physical activity on preventing recurrence of a cardiac event. People who suffer from heart failure, coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke will benefit significantly from being physically active. As the age of the population begins to increase, cardiac disease also increases. There should be effective lifestyle intervention strategies which will help lower the disease risk. Such studies will help health care providers in instructing cardiac patients to remain physically active which in turn will improve the health outcome of the patient.

References :
  1. Physical Activity and Exercise for Secondary Prevention among Patients with Cardiovascular Disease - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879796/)
Source: Medindia

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