[25 years of organized ambulatory heart sport in Luxembourg. The development of a sustained rehabilitation model]

Charles Delagardelle, Patrick Feiereisen
Bulletin de la Société des Sciences Médicales du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg 2011, (1): 7-17
After Second World War cardiovascular disease (CVD), especially coronary artery disease (CAD), turned out to be an epidemic in the western countries including the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, and accounted for nearly half of all deaths. A lot of strategies, among them treatment by physical activity, were developed to fight this challenge and, fortunately, a mortality regression of about 50 % could be achieved. Nowadays, eastern European countries and, more recently, China and India face an increasing CVD mortality. During the seventies ambulatory heart sport clubs, then labeled as, "coronary clubs" became very popular in Europe especially in West-Germany. Around 2000 there were more than 6000 heart sports groups in Germany. In 1984 a first group was founded in Luxembourg City (Centre) a, 1991 a second group started in Esch/Alzette (South) and in 2002 a third regional group in Ettelbruck (North) so that, by now, the 3 main public health districts of the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg can offer regular ambulatory sports activities to almost all concerned cardiac patients in the country. The ambulatory heart sport groups of Luxembourg cooperate in a federated association allowing an integrated logistic organization. Since the beginning nineties cardiac rehabilitation became a field of interest to the university faculties and later of scientific societies, like the American Heart Association (AHA) and the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). New subgroups were founded and guidelines were published and renewed. The movement of ambulatory heart sport groups was more or less neglected in the prevention and rehabilitation activities of the scientific societies. Recently the ESC proposed a new definition of comprehensive CVD prevention and rehabilitation programmes as "coordinated, multifaceted interventions designed to optimize a cardiac patient's physical, psychological, and social functioning, in addition to stabilizing, slowing, or even reversing the progression of the underlying atherosclerotic processes, thereby reducing morbidity and mortality". The responsible ESC cardiologists agree with the international community that fighting CVD risk factors is at least as important as the whole arsenal of modern heart surgery and interventional cardiology. The core activity of ambulatory heart sport groups remains physical activity, and nowadays 6 different activities can be offered (one activity each day of the week): exercise lesson, swimming, walking, cycling, Nordic Walking and water gymnastics On the other hand comprehensive prevention programs, especially concerning CVD risk factors are also endorsed by the ambulatory heart sport groups of Luxembourg via regular meetings, conferences, brochures and symposia. One advantage of the ambulatory heart sport movement in Luxembourg, in contrast to the German model, is the direct financial allowance of the health ministry, which permits a lifelong activity to all the active members. Another advantage is that all the regional groups are directed by clinical cardiologists knowing the patients very closely. One weak point is that only about 5-10% of all potential candidates adhere to the ambulatory heart sport groups but nearly 50% of the active members are practicing for more than 5 years. These regularly active patients are a positive selection of well committed cardiac patients who, most of the time, control CVD risk factors with scrutiny. The ESC has recommended creating so called "Heart Houses" where all the aspects of comprehensive prevention and rehabilitation can be offered. Their main concern is to develop a sustained strategy which is desperately missing for the moment. A lot of the active members of the heart sport groups of Luxembourg achieve such a sustained activity and, therefore, these heart sport groups can be considered as very cost effective models of sustained rehabilitation. After a 25 years activity the ambulatory heart sport movement of Luxemburg has reached the outstanding goal of being a center of sustained rehabilitation. Although such a goal was not really planned during the first 15 years of activity, the stamina of the active members set the movement into this direction.

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