Objectives: This study was designed to define the effect of different levels of leisure time physical activity on cardiorespiratory fitness and progression of coronary atherosclerotic lesions in unselected patients with coronary artery disease.
Background: It has been shown in various studies that regression of coronary atherosclerotic lesions can be achieved by means of lipid-lowering drugs, reduction of fat consumption and physical exercise.
Methods: Patients were prospectively randomized either to an intervention group (n = 29) participating in regular physical exercise or to a control group (n = 33) receiving usual care. Energy expenditure in leisure time physical activity was estimated from standardized questionnaires and from participation in group exercise sessions. After 12 months of participation, repeat coronary angiography was performed; coronary lesions were measured by digital image processing.
Results: After 1 year, patients in the intervention group achieved an increase in oxygen uptake at a ventilatory threshold of 7% (p < 0.001) and peak exercise of 14% (p < 0.05), whereas a significant decrease was observed in patients in the control group. To achieve significant improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness, approximately 1,400 kcal/week had to be expended in the form of leisure time physical activity (p < 0.001). The mean energy expended in such activity was 1,876 +/- 163 kcal/week in the intervention group and 1,187 +/- 97 kcal/week in the control group (p < 0.001). In the intervention group, regression of coronary artery disease was noted in 8 patients (28%), progression of disease in 3 (10%) and no change in coronary morphology in 18 (62%). In contrast, coronary artery disease progressed at a significantly faster rate in patients in the control group (progression in 45%, no change in 49% and regression in 6%) (p < 0.001 vs. intervention). When the two groups were combined, the lowest level of leisure time physical activity was noted in patients with progression of disease (1,022 +/- 142 kcal/week) as opposed to patients with no change (1,533 +/- 122 kcal/week) or regression of disease (2,204 +/- 237 kcal/week) (p < 0.005).
Conclusions: Measurable improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness requires approximately 1,400 kcal/week of leisure time physical activity; higher work loads are necessary to halt progression of coronary atherosclerotic lesions (1,533 +/- 122 kcal/week), whereas regression of coronary lesions is observed only in patients expending an average of 2,200 kcal/week in leisure time physical activity, amounting to approximately 5 to 6 h/week of regular physical exercise.