[Sports as therapy]

Rainer Hambrecht
Herz 2004, 29 (4): 381-90
Over the last 2 decades the clinical application of physical exercise as a therapeutic strategy has developed from rehabilitation to prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. This shift in clinical application was accompanied by a more systematic research approach of the involved mechanisms and the objective clinical assessment of sport interventions using prospective randomized clinical trials. This ongoing process established physical exercise as an evidence-based and guideline-oriented treatment option. In stable coronary artery disease (CAD), exercise therapy has long been used for rehabilitation purposes following an acute myocardial infarction. A recent meta-analysis revealed a significant 27% reduction of total mortality among training patients. Four mechanisms are considered important mediators of the reduced cardiac event rate: improvement of endothelial function, reduced progression of coronary lesions, reduced thrombogenic risk, and improved collateralization. The therapeutic benefit of regular physical exercise has also been confirmed in direct comparison with an interventional strategy: a 12-month exercise therapy in stable CAD patients was associated with a higher event-free survival as compared to conventional percutaneous coronary intervention. In stable chronic heart failure (CHF), physical activity was traditionally discouraged-with negative consequences for the patients: exercise intolerance worsened, the progression of disease-related muscular atrophy accelerated. A carefully designed exercise program at 50-70% of the maximal oxygen uptake was effective in improving exercise capacity by 12-32%. In a recent meta-analysis, exercise therapy reduced the relative risk of CHF mortality by 35% and CHF-related hospitalizations by 28%. Considering the growing body of evidence in favor of sport as a therapy, training interventions should be considered additional/alternative therapeutic strategies as compared with established pharmacological/interventional options.

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