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  1. Keteyian, Steven J. PhD
  2. Michaels, Alexander MD


Purpose: Exercise cardiac rehabilitation (CR) represents an evidence-based therapy for patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) and this article provides a concise review of the relevant exercise testing and CR literature, including aspects unique to their care.


Clinical Considerations: A hallmark feature of HFrEF is exercise intolerance (eg, early-onset fatigue). Drug therapies for HFrEF target neurohormonal pathways to blunt negative remodeling of the cardiac architecture and restore favorable loading conditions. Guideline drug therapy includes [beta]-adrenergic blocking agents; blockade of the renin-angiotensin system; aldosterone antagonism; sodium-glucose cotransport inhibition; and diuretics, as needed.


Exercise Testing and Training: Various assessments are used to quantify exercise capacity in patients with HFrEF, including peak oxygen uptake measured during an exercise test and 6-min walk distance. The mechanisms responsible for the exercise intolerance include abnormalities in (a) central transport (chronotropic response, stroke volume) and (b) the diffusion/utilization of oxygen in skeletal muscles. Cardiac rehabilitation improves exercise capacity, intermediate physiologic measures (eg, endothelial function and sympathetic nervous system activity), health-related quality of life (HRQoL), and likely clinical outcomes. The prescription of exercise in patients with HFrEF is generally similar to that for other patients with cardiovascular disease; however, patients having undergone an advanced surgical therapy do present with features that require attention.


Summary: Few patients with HFrEF enroll in CR and as such, many miss the derived benefits, including improved exercise capacity, a likely reduction in risk for subsequent clinical events (eg, rehospitalization), improved HRQoL, and adoption of disease management strategies.