Millions of people who have heart failure feel like prisoners in their own bodies. That's because they have been told not to do anything at all that may cause their heart rate to go up.
However, a new study suggests this type of treatment may have done more harm than good.
Lise Coleman is one of the 5,000,000 Americans with heart failure. For people like her, doctors orders are to take it easy.
"They told me to do nothing," she said. "Basically they didn't want me to even lift a basket of clothes. I was scared to do anything."
Heart failure is when the heart doesn't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Over the years, doctors thought the best treatment was to avoid overexertion. But doctors may be doing a 180-degree turnaround in light of startling new research.
The largest study ever conducted on the effects of exercise on people with heart failure was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Twenty-three hundred patients were observed for almost three years. About half the group was treated the traditional way and the other half exercised. Researchers found the exercisers fared better.
"First and foremost, we showed that exercise training is safe in patients with advanced heart disease," said Dr. Christopher M. O'Connor, of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. "Second, we showed a modest improvement in clinical outcomes. A reduction in hospitalization or death."
Coleman was in the study group that exercised and experienced less fatigue, shortness of breath and leg swelling, and greater energy.
"When you exercise, you are helping your heart pump the blood through your body," she explained. "You're helping your organs. You're helping yourself feel good, and when you feel good, you can do more."
This study could change the way heart failure patients are treated thereby improving their quality of life.
*Originally aired April 16, 2009