Social Support Linked to Heart Failure Patients' Exercise Routine

Social support is becoming increasingly crucial to maintain a regular exercise regimen for heart failure patients, according to a recent study.

Social support is becoming increasingly crucial to maintain a regular exercise regimen for heart failure patients, according to a recent study.

While it is not news that exercise is beneficial for heart failure patients, caregivers often face difficulties in trying to keep their patients dedicated to a regular exercise routine—even in a clinical setting. The study finds that in order to get heart failure patients to remain committed to exercise, it is essential to have a good support system.

Scope of the Study

Lauren Cooper, MD, and her colleagues at Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI) led the study. They studied data from Heart Failure: A Controlled Trial Investigating Outcomes of Exercise Training (HF-ACTION), which randomized heart failure patients to follow or not follow an exercise-training program.

The team analyzed data from 2279 heart failure patients. The scope of study was spread over their enrollment over a period of 3 months in a 36-session supervised exercise program, followed by 2 years of exercise at home. While the patients were asked to record their sources of support for the exercise programs, they were also asked to submit a list of their potential social barriers to exercising.

The technique of measuring the patients’ adherence to their exercise programs was by minutes of exercise per week. The ratings were as follows:

  • Poor rating means less than 90 minutes per week
  • Partial rating means 90 or more minutes per week for 3 months, then less than 120 minutes per week thereafter
  • Full rating means 90 or more minutes per week for three months, then 120 or more minutes per week

Adherence Was Poor

On complete analysis, the researchers found that the exercise adherence rating was poor in general. A majority of the patients in the randomized study were unsuccessful in dedicating 90 minutes per week to exercise.

There was, however, a common thread among the patients who rated poor of the exercise regime adherence. These patients were mostly younger, female, African American, and had a higher body mass index score. They also had significantly worse baseline exercise capacity. Another common factor among the patients who had poor adherence to exercise routine was that they had higher levels of depression compared to patients with full and partial adherence.

The study also showed that patients with more sources of social support were more dedicated to maintaining an exercise regime. The same held true for patients with fewer barriers to exercise.

The researchers clarified that the study does not connect more perceived sources of social support to improved outcomes. The study simply notes that higher levels of social support tended to be associated with higher levels of exercise adherence.

The study findings largely propose that a good social support system is crucial to maintaining a heart failure patient’s exercise routine. If parents, family members work together with healthcare providers, the barriers that prevent a patient from participating in structured exercise programs are overcome.