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Health & Medicine for Senior Citizens

Study Finds Heart Failure Patients Benefit from Leg Muscle Exercise

By warming up properly, patients can improve the oxygenation, performance of their leg muscles, which is beneficial in promoting beneficial exercise

Oct. 31, 2011 - Doctors should not only treat the heart muscle in chronic heart failure patients, but also their leg muscles through exercise, say researchers in a major new study of the disease that primarily hits senior citizens.

Heart failure causes breathlessness and fatigue that severely limits normal daily activities such as walking. A new study claims to have discovered for the first time that leg muscle dysfunction is related to the severity of symptoms in heart failure patients.


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These findings from the University of Lees suggest that daily activity in patients with severe heart failure may not simply be limited by the failing heart, but also by an impairment in the leg muscles themselves.

In a series of experiments with chronic heart failure patients, the research team measured responses of the heart, lungs and leg muscles following a moderate exercise warm-up. Using a near-infrared laser to measure the oxygenation of the leg muscles, they found that warm-up exercise increased the activity of skeletal muscle enzymes that control energy production.

However, this adaptation was less in patients with the most severe symptoms, showing that the heart failure condition had a negative impact on the normal function of the leg muscles.

"Many chronic heart failure patients complain of leg fatigue during exercise and this can prevent them from being active,” says Dr. Harry Rossiter, of the University's Faculty of Biological Sciences.

“Our study shows that by warming up properly, patients can improve the oxygenation and performance of their leg muscles, which is beneficial in promoting exercise tolerance."

"When your muscles don't use oxygen well, it causes an uncomfortable burning sensation during activity," says Dr Klaus Witte, the Leeds General Infirmary Cardiologist on the research team.

"The effect of a warm up is to direct oxygen to the places that are going to need it, and make the muscles ready to use it when you start exercising."

Dr Rossiter says the next stage of this research will be to see whether training of the skeletal muscles can improve long-term overall outcomes for patients with chronic heart failure, and to discover more about the pathological changes in the leg muscles that may be a contributing factor in limiting exercise.

"Our main message is that exercise is safe and beneficial in patients with heart failure. By warming up the leg muscles properly, the exercise can be more comfortable and sustained for longer - affording great benefits for these patients," he says.

About Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood throughout the body. Heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. It means that your heart is not able to pump blood the way it should.

The weakening of the heart's pumping ability causes
   ● Blood and fluid to back up into the lungs
   ● The buildup of fluid in the feet, ankles and legs - called edema
   ● Tiredness and shortness of breath

The leading causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Treatment includes treating the underlying cause of your heart failure, medicines, and heart transplantation if other treatments fail.

Heart failure is a serious condition. About 5 million people in the U.S. have heart failure. It contributes to 300,000 deaths each year.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

>> Interactive Tutoral on Congestive Heart Failure

Heart Failure Facts (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

   ● Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs. Heart failure is a serious condition, but it does not mean that the heart has stopped beating.

   ● Around 5.8 million people in the United States have heart failure. About 670,000 people are diagnosed with it each year.1

About one in five people who have heart failure die within one year from diagnosis.1

   ● Heart failure was a contributing cause of 282,754 deaths in 2006.1

   ● In 2010, heart failure will cost the United States $39.2 billion.1 This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

   ● The most common causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

   ● Early diagnosis and treatment can improve quality of life and life expectancy for people who have heart failure. Treatment usually involves taking medicines, reducing salt in the diet, and getting daily physical activity. People with heart failure also track their daily symptoms and discuss them with their doctors.


Common symptoms of heart failure include -

   ● Shortness of breath during daily activities.

   ● Having trouble breathing when lying down.

   ● Weight gain with swelling in the legs, ankles, or lower back.

   ● General fatigue and weakness.

For More Information

For more information on CDC’s National Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program, visit

For more information about congestive heart failure, visit the Web sites of the following organizations:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

American Heart Association*

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Heart Failure Society of America*


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