Cycling and surgery have similar effect

From Chicago, Ill., at a meeting of the American Heart Association

Among people with chest pain because of clogged heart arteries, regular exercise on a stationary bike reduced symptoms better than surgery did, a team of German physicians has found in a small study.

After a year, just 6 of the 51 of the patients in the study who exercised had either died or gone back to the hospital for additional procedures, while 15 of the 50 patients who had angioplasty had died or had another procedure. In angioplasty, a surgeon clears heart arteries using a wire threaded through a vein from the patient’s leg. In all the angioplasty patients, the surgeon also implanted a mesh device to keep the arteries open.

Stephan Gielan of the University of Leipzig Heart Center suggests that the exercise therapy benefits the whole cardiovascular system, whereas angioplasty plus the mesh implant opens clogged arteries only at particular sites.

Gielan also notes that the no-surgery therapy saved money. Even with the costs of the training in the hospital, “exercise training was associated with about half the costs of the [surgical] intervention,” says Stephan Gielan of the University of Leipzig Heart Center.

Because the physicians were worried that exercise–in this case, biking–could strain the patients’ hearts, the patients started their training in the hospital. For 2 weeks, they biked six times a day, 10 minutes a session. They then went home and kept up a routine of at least 20 minutes of biking each day.

“The role of physical activity is supported by masses of data,” says Russell V. Luepker of the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis–St. Paul. “The issue is how we get people to do it.”


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