Exercise, stress management show physiological benefits for heart patients

DURHAM, N.C. -- Behavior modification techniques such as exercise and stress management can not only reduce the levels of depression and distress in heart patients, but can also improve physiological markers of cardiovascular health, according to the results of a randomized controlled trial conducted by Duke University Medical Center researchers.

According to the research team, this may be the first randomized trial to demonstrate that a non-pharmaceutical approach can have positive effects on such physiological determinants of cardiovascular health as blood flow to heart, the responsiveness of the lining of blood vessels and the ability of the cardiovascular system to regulate surges in blood pressure.

"While studies have shown that psychosocial factors such as depression, stress and anxiety place heart patients at a much greater risk of suffering future cardiac events or dying, few have looked at the effects of modifying psychosocial factors," said Duke medical psychologist James Blumenthal, Ph.D., lead author of a study appearing in the April 6, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Society. The trial was supported by a $4.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

"Our results suggest that exercise and stress management training offer considerable promise for patients with heart disease by not only improving psychosocial functioning and reactions to mental and physical stressors, but also by modifying important bio-markers of risk that may translate into improved clinical outcomes," he said.

The Duke trial enrolled 134 patients with stable heart disease and randomized them to one of three groups exercise, stress management or standard medical therapy. Patients randomized to the exercise group participated in 35 minutes of supervised aerobic exercise training three times a week for 16 weeks. Those in the stress management arm received 16 weekly 1.5-hour classes designed to help patients recognize the sour

Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center

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