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Novel Resistance Training Method for Frail Patients with CV Conditions

Comment by Christi Deaton, Primary Care and Risk Factor Management Section

Preventive Cardiology
Rehabilitation and Sports Cardiology
Risk Factors and Prevention

In older patients with cardiovascular (CV) conditions, frailty is a common comorbidity. Systematic reviews estimate the prevalence of frailty in older heart failure patients to be 44.5%, and pooled prevalence of frailty in ischaemic heart disease to be 19% in adults over age 60 (ranging from 4% to 61%) [1,2]. Patients with heart disease and frailty would benefit from cardiac rehabilitation (CR), but the authors of this paper note that we still lack established training interventions for frail patients. This lack is despite the EAPC Cardiac Rehabilitation Section call to action on frailty and cardiac rehabilitation in 2017 [3], in which the need to identify frailty and determine the effects of CR interventions on course and prognosis of frail patients was emphasised.

In this paper the authors discuss and review the evidence for blood-flow restricted resistance training (BFR-RT) as an innovative training modality that addresses the need to maintain or increase muscle strength in frail individuals unable to participate in usual moderate-to-vigorous intensity resistance training. BFR-RT is conducted with pneumatic torniquets to occlude venous blood flow and cause peripheral hypoxia in the muscle distal to the occlusion. Using BFR-RT with low loads suitable for frail individuals induces greater gains in muscle strength as the ensuing anaerobic processes and accumulation of specific metabolites mimic high load resistance training.

The authors review five studies addressing the safety of low load BFR-RT in patients with ischaemic heart disease or hypertension, and three studies addressing efficacy in ischaemic heart disease, heart failure or cardiac surgery. The authors conclude that low load BFR-RT is safe but advocate a lower volume of RT (< 15 repetitions/set), shorter breaks between sets (< 90 seconds) and wider cuffs to minimise cardiovascular risk. They note that studies have shown benefit of the technique (interventions between 6 and 12 weeks) in muscle strength and walk distance among others, compared to baseline and control interventions. The caveat is that these studies are small with sample sizes less than 40 individuals, although more data are available in studies of healthy adults.

The paper provides a proposal and recommendations for implementation of low load BFR-RT as part of exercise-based CR for frail patients with cardiovascular conditions. Low load BFR-RT is a promising modality of gaining muscle strength and improving the function of patients with both heart disease and frailty. However, as noted in the paper well-designed studies with larger samples are needed.


Christi Deaton commented on this article:

Kambic T, Jug B, Piepoli MF, Lainscak M. Is blood flow restriction resistance training the missing piece in cardiac rehabilitation in frail patients? Eur J Preven Cardiol. 2022;

other references:

1. Denfield QE, Winters-Stone K, Mudd JO, Gelow JM, Kurdi S, Lee CS. The Prevalence of Frailty in Heart Failure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int J Cardiol. 2017 June 01; 236: 283–289. doi:10.1016/j.ijcard.2017.01.153.
2. Liperoti R, Vetrano DL, Palmer K, et al. ADVANTAGE JA WP4 group. Association between frailty and ischaemic heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Geriatr 2021; 21: doi: 10.1186/s12877-021-02304-9
3. Vigorito C, Abreu A, Ambrosetti M, et al. Frailty and cardiac rehabilitation: A call to action from the EAPC Cardiac Rehabilitation Section. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2017; 24: 577 – 590. doi: 10.1177/2047487316682579

Notes to editor

Note: The content of this article reflects the personal opinion of the author/s and is not necessarily the official position of the European Society of Cardiology.