Background/objectives: Improving patients' cardiorespiratory fitness is an important therapeutic outcome in cardiac rehabilitation. The ability of cardiac rehabilitation to reduce mortality and morbidity has been evidenced through several meta-analyses. Whether cardiac rehabilitation can increase cardiorespiratory fitness and which factors may influence such gains are less well quantified.
Methods: We performed detailed literature searches of electronic databases and manually searched papers concerning changes in cardiorespiratory fitness in cardiac rehabilitation patients. We performed random-effects meta-analysis of mean improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness and subgroup analyses to determine potential sources of heterogeneity.
Results: Data from 31 studies produced 48 groups (n=3827) with a mean improvement of 1.55 (95% CI 1.21-1.89) METs, (p<0.001); equivalent to standardised effect size of ES=0.97 (95% CI 0.80-1.13). As this value was highly heterogeneous (Q=852, p<0.001) we performed subgroup analyses on the effect size data. Gains in fitness were highest in patients receiving >36 exercise sessions in studies where fitness was assessed using the Naughton Protocol. Patient characteristics associated with the highest fitness gains were age (being young) and sex (being male training in a male-only exercise group). Changes in fitness were unrelated to programme type (comprehensive or exercise-only), duration or study design. There was no association with patient's baseline fitness levels.
Conclusion: This is the first meta-analysis of changes in cardiovascular fitness in cardiac rehabilitation patients and shows clinically significant improvements in a large sample of patients from a variety of rehabilitation programmes. This analysis helps describe the characteristics of cardiac rehabilitation programmes which can increase patients' cardiorespiratory fitness.
Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Exercise; Meta-analysis; Rehabilitation.
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