Depression in heart patients: exercise plus psychological therapy work best

June 18, 2008 by  

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In a previous post, I touched on the beneficial effects of laughter and positive emotions on our heart and vascular system. It is very common however, that heart patients, especially those above 60, suffer from depression, thereby further worsening their underlying heart conditions. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia may just have found a rehabilitation program that seems to greatly benefit heart patients physically as well as psychologically.

The researchers studied 74 patients who had heart failure and have been diagnosed with depression. The patients were split 4 groups, with each group receiving a different type of home-based rehabilitation program for 3 months, as described below:

  • exercise and psychological counselling
  • psychological counselling only
  • exercise only
  • no interventions

Physical exercise consisted of walking for at least 30 minutes three times a week, with low-to-moderate intensity. Patients involved in exercise had heart rate monitors installed. They were taught how to self-monitor their physical exertion levels, and recognize the point when they have to stop exercise.

The type of psychological counselling used in the study was known as cognitive behavioural therapy. The counselling sessions were conducted one-to-one at the patients’ homes by psychiatric nurse specialists. “These sessions were designed to encourage patients to think positively and ‘reformat’ their beliefs about their illness and activity limitations.”

The results of the study after 3 months show that the group assigned to the exercise plus psychological counselling program performed significantly better in terms of physical recovery and overcoming depression compared to the other group. They also experienced better improvement in quality of life. The group assigned to psychological counselling only also improved in overcoming depressive symptoms but not as well as the first group. As expected, the group which did not have any rehabilitation program performed the worst.

There are several reasons why heart patients are depressed. Disability, loss of productivity, disturbed sleeping patterns, as well as financial worries are just a few.

In another related study by Swedish researchers, fear of death seems to be a major factor that causes heart patients to be depressive.

“Elderly patients with heart failure had a lot of thoughts about death. Higher levels of anxiety/depression were correlated to fear of death. Many expressed death as a natural relief from suffering, others were afraid of pain, loss of independence and dignity.”

It seems that a two-pronged approach to rehabilitation, one that caters to the body as well as to the soul, is the best way to help heart patients get back on their feet again.

“Heart failure patients who suffer from depression may benefit from exercise combined with psychological therapy to improve their physical function, reduce their depressive symptoms and enhance quality of life.”

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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