Exercise in Heart Failure: Should Aqua Therapy and Swimming Be Allowed?


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2004 - Volume 36 - Issue 12 - pp 2017-2023
Clinical Sciences: Clinical Investigations

Purpose: Although exercise training is established as an integrated part of treatment regimes in both patients with transmural myocardial infarction (MI) and chronic congestive heart failure (CHF), there is no consensus yet on the appropriateness of water exercises and swimming. One reason is the lack of information concerning both central hemodynamic volume and pressure responses during immersion in these patients.

Methods: This paper presents explorative studies on changes in cardiac dimensions and central hemodynamics during graded immersion and swimming in patients with moderate and/or severe MI and in patients with moderate and/or compensated severe CHF. For comparison purposes, healthy subjects were assessed. Measurements were performed by using Swan-Ganz right heart catheterization, subxiphoidal echocardiography, and Doppler-echocardiography.

Results: The major findings were: 1) Indicators of an increase in preload were seen in patients with moderate and severe MI. In both patient groups, upright immersion to the neck and supine body position at rest in the water resulted in abnormal mean pulmonary artery pressure (PAm) and mean pulmonary capillary pressures (PCPm), respectively. During low-speed swimming (20–25 m·min−1), the PAm and/or PCPm were higher than during supine cycle ergometry at a load of 100 W. 2) Left ventricular overload and decrease and/or no change in stroke volume occurred in patients with severe CHF who were immersed up to the neck. 3) Patient’s well-being was maintained despite hemodynamic deterioration.

Conclusion: The acute responses during immersion and swimming suggest the need for additional studies on long-term changes in cardiac dimensions and central hemodynamic in both patients with severe MI and severe CHF who undergo a swimming program, compared with nonswimming patients with MI and CHF of similar etiology and severity of disease.

1Swiss Health Observatory, Neuchatel and University of Bern, Bern, SWITZERLAND; and 2Caspar Heinrich Clinic, Bad Driburg, GERMANY

Address for correspondence: Katharina Meyer, Ph.D., MPH, FACSM, Swiss Health Observatory and University of Bern, Espace de l’Europe, 2010 Neuchâtel, Switzerland; E-mail: meyer.katharina@bluewin.ch.

Submitted for publication November 2003.

Accepted for publication July 2004.

©2004The American College of Sports Medicine