Background: The prevalence of chronic heart failure is increasing, and increases with increasing age. Major symptoms include breathlessness and restricted activities of daily living due to reduced functional capacity, which in turn affects quality of life. Exercise training has been shown to be effective in patients with coronary heart disease and has been proposed as an intervention to improve exercise tolerance in patients with heart failure.
Objectives: To determine the effectiveness of exercise based interventions compared with usual medical care on the mortality, morbidity, exercise capacity and health related quality of life, of patients with heart failure.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (The Cochrane Library Issue 2, 2001), MEDLINE (2000 to March 2001), EMBASE (1998 to March 2001), CINAHL (1984 to March 2001) and reference lists of articles. We also sought advice from experts.
Selection criteria: RCTs of exercise based interventions. The comparison group was usual medical care as defined by the study, or placebo. Adults of all ages with chronic heart failure. Only those studies with criteria for diagnosis of heart failure (based on clinical findings or objective indices) have been included.
Data collection and analysis: Studies were selected, and data were abstracted, independently by two reviewers. Authors were contacted where possible to obtain missing information.
Main results: Twenty-nine studies met the inclusion criteria, with 1126 patients randomised. The majority of studies included both patients with primary and secondary heart failure, NYHA class II or III. None of the studies specifically examined the effect of exercise training on mortality and morbidity as most were of short duration. Exercise training significantly increased VO(2) max by (WMD random effects model) 2.16 ml/kg/min (95% CI 2.82 to 1.49), exercise duration increased by 2.38 minutes (95% CI 2.85 to 1.9), work capacity by 15.1 Watts (95% CI 17.7 to 12.6) and distance on the six minute walk by 40.9 metres (95% CI 64.7 to 17.1). Improvements in VO(2) max were greater for training programmes of greater intensity and duration. HRQoL improved in the seven of nine trials that measured this outcome.
Reviewers' conclusions: Exercise training improves exercise capacity and quality of life in patients mild to moderate heart failure in the short term. There is currently no information regarding the effect of exercise training on clinical outcomes. The findings are based on small-scale trials in patients who are unrepresentative of the total population of patients with heart failure. Other groups (more severe patients, the elderly, women) may also benefit. Large-scale pragmatic trials of exercise training of longer duration, recruiting a wider spectrum of patients are needed to address these issues.