Strength Training for Heart Failure Patients

by Jodee on February 8, 2011

Rather than avoiding being active, heart failure patients can and should exercise. Before starting an exercise program, congestive heart failure patients should consult their doctor to find out what types of exercise and what level of activity is considered safe for them.

Weight training for heart failure patients can be an effective way to improve heart health. The benefits of this type of exercise include the following:

  • Increased strength
  • Higher level of endurance
  • Lowers catecholamine (chemical messenger) levels in the body that can over-stimulate the heart (and possibly cause harm to a person in heart failure)
  • Increases bone density
  • Increases nitric oxide production in the body, which helps to relax arteries

A heart failure patient who is performing weight training as a fitness activity may find that doing so helps to reduce his or her heart failure symptoms when performing daily living activities.

Muscle Loss in Heart Failure Patients

A person in heart failure may have already experienced some muscle loss. The individual’s health condition means lower blood flow to the muscles and organs in the body. As a result, performing any kind of activity is challenging.

More than two-thirds of people with congestive heart failure have muscle atrophy, according to one study. This condition causes loss of muscle tissue, resulting in weakness.

Muscle atrophy also leads to poor posture and effects the way a person walks. Balance can be thrown off, which increases the risk of a slip and fall injury. Recovering from an injury is slower than normal, since the muscle fibers themselves have changed due to this condition.

Advantages of Strength Training for Heart Failure Patients

Aerobic exercise for people in heart failure helps to strengthen the heart muscle, but it doesn’t help them to develop muscle strength in their arms, shoulders or chest. Strength training keeps muscles healthy and helps the participant build lean muscle.

Heart failure patients produce a lower level of an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase. This is the substance that releases nitric oxide from the cells found in the lining of the blood vessels. Nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels, which helps to ease the symptoms of heart failure.

Strength training increases the nitric oxide synthase levels in the body, and provides some symptom relief by increasing the level of pressure on the tissue lining the blood vessels and the heart (the endothelium). The change in the pressure means more nitric oxide will be released and the blood vessels will start to relax, allowing blood to move though more easily. Lifting weights regularly means the individual in heart failure will feel experience less shortness of breath and be less tired when performing physical activities.

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