Background: A gradual worsening of autonomic control of cardiovascular function accompanies the progression of heart failure. Exercise training modulates autonomic balance, and may affect the prognosis of the disease.
Aims: The sympathovagal balance was studied after 3 months of low-intensity rehabilitation compared with conventional therapy in 45 patients with heart failure (52% ischemic, 48% idiopathic), of whom 30 underwent rehabilitation and 15 did not. In 11 rehabilitated patients we also studied the effects on autonomic profile of 6 additional months of home-based training. Rehabilitated and non-rehabilitated patients had similar NYHA class, ejection fraction, exercise pVO2; 50% assumed carvedilol (39+/-5 mg/day).
Methods and results: Autoregressive power spectral density of RR intervals variability were assessed during 10 min of: (1) supine rest and free breathing; (2) supine rest and breathing at 20 acts/min (=vagal stimulus); (3) standing (=sympathetic stimulus). During each period, the ratio LF/HF of the individual autospectrum indicated the sympathovagal balance. After 3 months of rehabilitation, pVO2 increased (20%); LF/HF at rest was unchanged (8.7+/-1.2 vs. 9.2+/-1.2); it decreased with controlled breathing (-18%) and increased during standing (+79%) (P<0.05). These changes were more evident after 6 months of home-based training, when pVO2 was still high: LF/HF at rest was reduced (5.4+/-0.9 vs. 8.5+/-2.1), decreased during controlled breathing (-17%) and increased during standing (87%) (P<0.05). No changes in any variable were seen in non-rehabilitated patients.
Conclusions: A low intensity rehabilitation program restores autonomic tone and reactivity to vagal and sympathetic stimuli. Some of these effects are already evident after the initial hospital-based phase.