Cardiology researchers out of UT Southwestern Medical Center recently revealed that moderate exercise is not only safe for those with pulmonary hypertension (PH) but that it improves the quality of life in these difficult-to-treat patients. The study, which involved more than 400 patients with pulmonary hypertension, found that engaging in physical activity improved the pulmonary status of the study participants and was safe to do.
Historically, it was felt by the medical community that patients with pulmonary hypertension should not exercise because it was thought to put extra stress on an already failing heart. Now, thanks to new research, the tide has turned, and more and more cardiologists are beginning to realize that mild to moderate exercise is beneficial to pulmonary hypertension patients rather than harmful to them.
In pulmonary hypertension, there is an increased blood pressure through the pulmonary vessels. This puts extra stress on the right side of the heart that must push against higher than normal pulmonary vascular resistance. The end result of untreated pulmonary hypertension is right-sided heart failure. Pulmonary hypertension is so severe that fifteen percent of all patients die every year, even with treatment.
Rather than worsening heart failure, the research revealed that patients who underwent physician-supervised exercise actually had stronger hearts with a better quality of life. For pulmonary hypertension patients, this means that they experienced less fatigue, better oxygenation, less shortness of breath, and an improvement in quality of life.
This new UT Southwestern-led research, entitled “Efficacy and Safety of Exercise Training in Chronic Pulmonary Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” and published in Circulation, joins other research studies revealing basically the same thing — that PH patients don’t have to be invalids and can actually improve their situation by exercising. This doesn’t mean that pulmonary hypertension patients should take up jogging or other strenuous activity. Instead, their level of activity should be tailored to their unique physiological status so that they can strengthen their heart without putting undue stress on the cardiovascular system.
What the latest research suggests is that patients with pulmonary hypertension should see their doctors about getting an exercise prescription that allows for a gradual increase in activity with rest periods when shortness of breath interferes with physical activity. More research is necessary to see if moderate exercise can actually reduce the high mortality rate in these patients. In the meantime, exercise appears to be safe and there is no reason as yet to believe that it shouldn’t be a part of every PH patient’s life.