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Extra walking can improve quality of life for patients with heart failure

A recent study suggests an extra 1,000 to 5,000 steps of walking each day could improve the quality of life for patients with heart failure.
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A recent study suggests an extra 1,000 to 5,000 steps of walking each day could improve the quality of life for patients with heart failure.

There's no cure for congestive heart failure, but a North Texas cardiologist talks with KERA's Sam Baker about how more walking can improve a patient's quality of life.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Texas, according to the state health services department.

Congestive heart failure means your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. There’s no cure, but a recent study of 425 patients using fitness trackers found that between a 1,000 and 5,000 extra steps a day can improve a patient’s quality of life.

KERA’s Sam Baker talked about this with Dr. Sreenivas Gudimetla, a cardiologist with Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth and Texas Health Physicians Group.

The exact benefit for heart failure patients of walking is what?

It doesn't reverse or minimize the disease, but it improves symptoms in people with heart failure. Their shortness of breath improves. Their functional capacity improves, and their ability to perform their activities of daily living improves.

The 1,000 to 5,000 steps. Has that been determined to be sort of the sweet spot for results from exercise? 

It varies from person to person. Those numbers come from this study in particular, and from this study that range of steps has been shown to have a benefit.

So the benefit of this study is what then?

In people who actually take extra steps during the day, they have clinically significant health improvements in terms of how they feel, in terms of what they're able to do during their lives. And it actually encourages them to live a much more active lifestyle and eating healthy, taking better care of yourself overall will indirectly improve survival.

Considering that it doesn't change the mortality outcome, is it hard to get people with heart failure to embrace exercise?

I think it is crucially important that we try to encourage our heart failure patients to exercise because with how they feel, especially if they've been recently decompensated, they're not going to feel like they want to exercise.

You know, we in a broad sense in the medical field, know that this is extremely important and therefore we have programs in place to try and encourage our patients to be on an exercise regimen and also counseling on other ways of taking care of themselves, such as a heart-healthy diet with limitation of salt intake, so that their risk of volume overload goes way down.

Do some patients have to be convinced of that? 

Some patients do, especially if they've had, you know, really bad heart failure exacerbations. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of effort and it takes a lot of work to enroll and make the trip to cardiac rehabilitation on a day on a regular basis so that they can build up their strength.

The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology guidelines have steps in place where it is standard of care to begin counseling our patients early on, especially before their hospital discharge or after their initial diagnosis as an outpatient.

Are there any steps people can take to minimize or even avoid heart failure?

There was a study published in late 2000 that broke down the factors that determine one's survival. Genetics is number one. Number two is lifestyle.

It's important to educate the population at large when they're younger because if they eat healthy, exercise, and maintain an ideal weight, all of those things are going to reduce the risk of diabetes and hypertension, which are definite precursors for cardiovascular disease going forward.

So what you do in your teens, twenties, and thirties determines how you do in your forties, fifties, and sixties and beyond.

RESOURCES:

People With Heart Failure Can Step Their Way to Better Health

Just 1,000 Extra Steps a Day Can Improve Health for People With Heart Failure

NIH: Heart Failure

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

Heart Failure

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.