After heart attack, exercise helps as long as you don’t quit

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The good news is that exercise, whether strength training or cardio, does wonders for heart health post-heart attack. The bad news is that once the exercise stops, so do the benefits. Unfortunately you can’t bank those hours spent in the gym.

A study published online this month in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Assn. looked at endothelial function — a measure of cardiovascular health — in 209 people who had suffered an acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack. Endothelial cells line the interior of the body’s circulatory system, affecting blood vessel function. A loss of function in those cells can be a characteristic of cardiovascular disease.


Though other studies have shown exercise can benefit endothelial function, this one compared the results of both aerobic and strength conditioning, then examined the after-effects of stopping the exercise. Participants were randomly assigned to an aerobic training group, a strength training group, or to a group that did strength training and aerobics (all three groups met four times a week for a month and did moderate levels of exercise). A control group did no exercise. After those four weeks, all of the training groups ended the structured exercise and were followed up a month later.

After the first month, every exercise group showed improvements in endothelial function, measured by flow-mediated dilation, or the increase in blood flow through the blood vessels. FMD went from about 4% at the beginning of the study to about 10%, considered normal function. The control group showed no significant improvement. However, after one month of no exercise, those improvements returned to pre-exercise levels for the training groups.

Strength training, according to the researchers, could help the cardiovascular system by increasing blood flow and raising the heart rate. The study concludes: ‘These findings could help to encourage variety in the prescription of exercise and ultimately to promote better adherence to long-term physical training.’

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Robert Gauthier / L.A. Times