Background: Beneficial effects of physical training on exercise tolerance, autonomic and skeletal muscle function and limb blood flow have been demonstrated in chronic heart failure. Because this rehabilitation is expensive, may involve risk, and has unknown effects on prognosis, the possibility of predicting benefit on the basis of individual patient data is intriguing. The most suitable exercise training programme has not yet been established.
Methods and results: We reviewed the progress of 134 stable heart failure patients studied in randomized controlled trials of physical training. A significant training effect (+13% peak oxygen consumption, +17% exercise duration) was associated with improved autonomic indices (resting catecholamines and hormones, heart rate variability), without significant side-effects. No ventilatory, haemodynamic, autonomic or clinical factor at baseline was a predictor of outcome. Similar beneficial effects were observed in both male and female patients. The improvement in oxygen consumption after 16 weeks training was higher than after 6 weeks (+2.6 +/- 3.0 vs +0.3 +/- 3.1 ml.kg.min-1, P < 0.05). The combination of cycle ergometer with calisthenic exercises was more beneficial than cycle ergometer alone (+2.7 +/- 4.2 vs 1.2 +/- 2.0 ml.kg.min-1, P < 0.01). The presence of nonsustained ventricular tachycardia did not preclude a training effect. Patients older than 70 years were able to train, although less effectively than the younger ones. No difference in exercise gain was observed whether the patients trained in the hospital or at home.
Conclusion: The positive effects of physical rehabilitation in chronic stable heart failure patients are confirmed. No baseline patient factor was significantly correlated with outcome. A tailored, moderate, home-based, combined cycle ergometer, plus calisthenic exercise training seems safe and beneficial in a large cohort of heart failure patients, with similar benefits in a variety of conditions and different hospital settings.