High-volume exercise is safe, even with high coronary calcium
A clinically significant coronary artery calcification score of 100 Agatston units or more is no reason not to exercise. A Cooper Clinic report on nearly 22,000 middle-aged men without baseline cardiovascular disease who were followed for a mean of 10.4 years concluded that those in the highest-volume exercise group, many of whom were marathon runners and engaged in the equivalent of running for at least 5-6 hours/week at a pace of 10 minutes per mile, were 11% more likely to have an elevated baseline coronary artery calcification score than those who exercised less. But these highest-volume exercisers with elevated coronary calcium – their mean level was 807 Agatston units – had risks of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality that weren’t significantly different from those of men with elevated coronary calcium who exercised more moderately ().
Dr. Vogel had harsh words for his physician colleagues with respect to the widespread underprescribing of cardiac rehabilitation programs.
“You guys are doing a crappy job with exercise in our most vulnerable patients: those who’ve had cardiovascular events,” he charged. “Cardiac rehabilitation is a Class I recommendation in our guidelines. And yet utilization in the United States is just 10%-20%. No other Class I recommendation is in that ballpark.”
A meta-analysis of 34 randomized trials totaling more than 6,000 post-MI patients concluded that those randomized to exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation had a 47% reduction in the risk of reinfarction, 36% lower cardiac mortality, and a 26% reduction in all-cause mortality ().
“The data show that cardiac rehabilitation is as effective as anything else we do in cardiovascular medicine. I understand that patients live far away, they don’t like to exercise – I’ve heard every excuse. But I am charging you with the responsibility of meeting a Class I recommendation that gets patients to live longer,” he declared.
Medicare now covers an enhanced, 72-session program called Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation that teaches comprehensive lifestyle change and provides reasonable reimbursement. “It’s a good thing for our patients,” Dr. Vogel commented.
For patients who are reluctant to pound the pavement, yoga may provide an alternative form of physical activity with tangible cardiovascular benefits. Dr. Vogel pointed to the Yoga-CaRe trial presented at the 2018 scientific sessions of the American Heart Association. Yoga-CaRe randomized 3,959 post-MI patients at 29 centers in India to a program of 13 supervised in-hospital yoga classes followed by yoga at home, or to a control group with three educational sessions. The rate of major adverse cardiovascular events over 42 months of follow-up was cut in half, compared with controls, in the 27% of participants who attended at least 10 of the 13 yoga classes. Their quality of life scores were higher, too.
Dr. Vogel reported serving as a paid consultant to the National Football League and the Pritikin Longevity Center. He is on the speaker’s bureau for Sanofi and Regeneron.