(Reuters Health) - Most older adults who are hospitalized for acute myocardial infarction do not attend even one of the recommended cardiac rehabilitation sessions, according to a new study.
Cardiac rehab increases physical and cardiovascular fitness through structured exercise and education sessions, said lead author Dr. Jacob A. Doll, of Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina.
Patients may attend individual or group sessions to improve medication adherence, help them quit smoking, lose weight, improve their diet and manage chronic diseases, while also focusing on psychological and social wellbeing, he said.
"Some people will be too sick after a heart attack to exercise safely, but this should be a fairly low percentage," Doll told Reuters Health by email. "Most other people can benefit, especially older adults."
Researchers used data on 58,269 patients 65 years or older who had acute MI between 2007 and 2010.
The researchers found that 36,376 patients, or 62%, were referred to cardiac rehab - but only 11,862 attended at least one rehab session over the year following hospital discharge.
Of those who had not been referred, 1,795 attended at least one session.
Half of those who went to the rehab program attended less than 26 sessions, though insurance usually covers 36 sessions - or two to three sessions per week, as reported August 3 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Less than a quarter of the total group of MI patients attended at least one rehab session, and only 5% completed 36 sessions.
Younger white male nonsmokers with few other health problems were most likely to attend cardiac rehab.
"Not all (heart attack) patients are referred, some for valid reasons such as inability to exercise, difficulty in scheduling due to their job, lack of transportation, need to care for a sick spouse, etc," said Dr. Jerome L. Fleg of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
Rehab sessions typically involve five to 10 minutes of warm-up, 30 to 40 minutes of walking, stationary cycling, or elliptical machine exercise, followed by five to 10 minutes of cool down, said Fleg, who was not part of the new study.
Hospitals should improve referral rates, and should encourage enrolled patients to actually complete the rehab programs, Doll said.
"Many people might feel that cardiac rehab is not for them, potentially because they feel they are not able to exercise or are too sick," he said.
Medicare recipients, like those in this study, generally have all costs covered for cardiac rehab, Fleg told Reuters Health by email.
Most other insurances cover cardiac rehab, but copayments may be cost-prohibitive for some people, and those living in rural areas may have to drive long distances to find a center, Doll said.
"Health systems and insurers should consider reducing copayments in order to improve access, since cardiac rehabilitation has been shown (to) improve survival and functioning after a heart attack," he said. "For people that cannot attend a traditional program, we may need new ways to deliver rehab services, such as home-based programs."