Background: Postoperative exercise therapy aims at recovering, as soon as possible, independence in the basic physical activities; but the type, intensity, and therefore the costs of the programs, vary widely. The aim of this study was to compare the effectiveness of a low frequency (once daily, not in the weekend) program with a high frequency (twice daily, including the weekend) one and to assess whether the latter would yield sufficient benefit for the patient to justify higher costs in material and personnel (physiotherapists) after uncomplicated coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.
Methods: Two-hundred and forty-six patients were randomly allocated to either a low or high frequency exercise program. Endpoints were the functional level as measured by the achievement of five activity milestones, the patient's independence (functional independence measures [FIM]) as assessed by a structured interview, the amount of daily physical activity (activity monitor), and patient satisfaction (questionnaire). Except for patient satisfaction, all measurements were done in the first week after surgery.
Results: Patients with the high frequency exercise program achieved functional milestones faster than patients with the low frequency exercise program (p = 0.007). The frequency of the exercise program had no influence on functional independence as measured with the FIM or quantity of physical activity. The satisfaction degree was greater in the high frequency group (p = 0.032), although the low frequency group was not dissatisfied.
Conclusions: A high frequency exercise program leads to earlier performance of functional milestones and yields more satisfaction after uncomplicated CABG surgery and this should lead to an earlier discharge. On the other hand, if the shortage of physiotherapists remains unchanged or even increases, the low frequency program also yields excellent functional results, albeit at the cost of a somewhat longer hospital stay: but it would allow a sensible redistribution of the physiotherapists activity towards complicated and, therefore, more demanding patients.