Congestive heart failure is a potentially debilitating disorder that affects a significant number of patients. The age-adjusted death rate has doubled over the past decade. Patients live an average of 4 to 5 years, and nearly all suffer from fatigue and breathlessness, which limits exercise capacity and produces a poor quality of life. Patients have usually been advised to avoid exercise because of concerns that they would experience a further decline in cardiac function. However, it has been demonstrated that exercise capacity is not related to the degree of left ventricular systolic dysfunction. This has led to the suggestion that peripheral changes in skeletal muscle and blood supply may play a major role in determining the exercise capacity of patients with congestive heart failure. Studies have demonstrated abnormalities of skeletal muscle blood flow, metabolism and structure, all of which are consistent with the impaired performance observed in these patients. Although the effects of exercise training have been examined in only a relatively few number of patients, the results have been promising. Exercise training has been found to improve exercise capacity and reduce symptoms. However, to our knowledge no data exist as to the impact of exercise training on left ventricular function, hospital stay or mortality in this population. Even though the early results are promising, they require confirmation of feasibility, clinical benefit and safety in larger, long term randomized trials. It should be determined whether training has a long-term beneficial impact on measures more closely related to daily activities and quality of life. Ultimately, it would be important to determine whether training has an impact on mortality and morbidity. © 1995 American College of Cardiology.
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