Health education and stress management rehabilitation programs resulted in 29 percent fewer heart attacks and 34 percent fewer deaths from coronary disease, according to research conducted by scientists at Leiden University, the Netherlands.
The results of a meta-analysis of 37 cardiac rehabilitation studies suggest significant positive effects of rehabilitation programs on blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight, smoking behavior, physical exercise, and eating habits.
"Thirty years ago it was believed that cardiac rehabilitation programs should just improve the patients' physical fitness and return them to their jobs," noted Elise Dusseldorp, lead author of the study. "Nowadays, the programs have expanded to help patients change their risk behaviors and return to their usual way of life in a much wider personal, physical and social sense."
The programs most successful in reaching their near-term goals with blood pressure, smoking, exercise and lowering emotional distress also were most effective on the more distant goal of reducing heart attacks and deaths from heart disease, the study showed. The research appears in the current issue of Health Psychology.
The researchers said their study highlights the need to create more psychoeducational programs in cardiac rehabilitation that combine individually tailored stress management and health education programs.
However, they said the development of these programs has to be based on theory-driven research results that link specific elements of the planned interventions with desired changes in individual patients' risk behaviors and emotional distress as well as the ultimate goals of preventing further heart attacks and cardiac mortality.
The study was funded by the Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research.