Home Exercise May Alleviate Hopelessness in Coronary Heart Disease

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Regular home exercise may ease hopelessness in patients with coronary heart disease, according to data presented at AHA.

A growing problem among many coronary heart disease (CHD) patients is a feeling of hopelessness. Now, new data demonstrate for the first time the beneficial effect of regular home exercise on decreasing moderate to severe hopelessness in patients with CHD.

Researchers reported at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014 that walking or biking at home at least 3 days a week resulted in a 12% reduction in hopelessness scores in patients with CHD.

“Hopelessness has been identified in 27% to 52% of patients with heart disease and is linked to complications and death in these patients. Although there is high morbidity and mortality associated with hopelessness, there have been surprisingly few studies examining how hopelessness might be effectively treated,” said lead study author Susan L. Dunn, PhD, who is a Professor of Nursing at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Benefits of Home Exercise

Past studies have linked the feeling of hopelessness to the development and worsening of CHD and a higher risk for complications due to CHD and death. However, there have been few studies or trials that have looked at therapies that benefit these patients. 

The current study involved 324 patients with CHD (mean age, 66 years). The cohort was 33% female and 93% Caucasian.

Susan L. Dunn, PhD, RNSusan Dunn, PhD, RN
Courtesy of the American Heart Association

Researchers developed an instrument to measure feelings of hopelessness. They defined “state of hopelessness” by how pessimistic and helpless patients currently felt. They defined “hopelessness as a trait” as a means to capture how patients typically felt over much longer periods. 

At the study’s outset, while still in the hospital, 24% of the patients had current feelings of hopelessness, 28% expressed long-term feelings of hopelessness and 30% had both types, at moderate to severe levels, according to a press release.

“This is the first study to suggest home exercise as an effective strategy in easing hopelessness symptoms in patients with heart disease,” Dr. Dunn told Endocrinology Advisor. “It is important to evaluate patients for the presence of hopelessness and its level of severity. All cardiac patients should be encouraged to exercise, but special encouragement is needed for patients who are more severely hopeless, as they may be the least likely to exercise yet benefit the most.”

The researchers found that the state and trait hopelessness levels were not significantly different over a 12-month period between exercisers and non-exercisers for those patients with little/no or mild baseline hopelessness.