HIIT road to recovery for patients with heart disease

High intensity interval training (HIIT) can help heart patients with their recovery and is more effective than moderate-intensity continuous training in the short term, according to University of Queensland research.

Dr Jenna Taylor, from the UQ School of Human Movement and Nutrition Science, said the study involved a four week exercise program with a 12 month follow-up.

“In patients attending cardiac rehabilitation we found that HIIT was feasible and safe, and offered greater short-term fitness improvements than usual care moderate intensity training,” Dr Taylor said.

“After a four week program, fitness had improved by 10 per cent with HIIT, compared with four per cent for a moderate-intensity continuous training program.

“Over 12 months, fitness improvements were similar between the exercise training groups, however patients that continued with the HIIT program three times a week showed greater fitness improvements.”

For decades, moderate intensity continuous training has been the cornerstone of exercise prescription for cardiac rehabilitation.

Dr Taylor said HIIT was now recognised in cardiac rehabilitation exercise guidelines as an appropriate and efficient way to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, a strong predictor of mortality.

“HIIT can be used as an exercise option for certain patients recovering from coronary artery disease,” she said.

“It can be prescribed by exercise professionals as an additional or alternative option to moderate intensity exercise for low-moderate risk patients with coronary artery disease.

“It can help patients improve their fitness more quickly in recovery and can add variety, enjoyment, and confidence to an exercise program.

“HIIT may be particularly appealing for patients who have engaged in sports or high intensity exercise training prior to their cardiac event.”

Around one in twenty Australians are living with cardiovascular conditions according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Survey 2017-18.

Dr Taylor said most Australians will have a family member or friend affected by heart disease.

“Fitness is an important predictor of survival in these patients, and therefore exercise strategies that have a greater impact on fitness as well as recovery and quality of life in patients with heart disease, can affect the lives of many,” she said.

“Having worked as an exercise physiologist with patients in cardiac rehabilitation for 10 years, translating this research into clinical practice was an important focus.”

The research was supported by funding from Wesley Medical Research and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Dr Taylor is currently working as a research fellow with Mayo Clinic to determine the optimal HIIT protocol for patients with heart disease.

The study is published in JAMA Cardiology. (doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2020.3511)

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