Having strong legs may lower the risk of developing heart failure after a heart attack, according to new research presented at the Heart Failure 2023 conference.
Heart failure is a common complication of heart attacks, with around 6 to 9 per cent of heart attack survivors experiencing it. Previous studies have already linked strong leg muscles to lower mortality rates in patients with coronary artery disease.
To investigate the connection between leg strength and heart failure after a heart attack, researchers examined 932 patients who were hospitalised between 2007 and 2020 due to a heart attack. These patients did not have heart failure before admission and did not develop heart failure complications during their hospital stay. The study participants had an average age of 66, 81 per cent of them were men.
To measure leg strength, the researchers assessed the maximum strength of the quadriceps muscles. Patients sat on a chair and exerted as much force as possible for five seconds while a handheld device attached to their ankle recorded the strength in kilograms. The measurement was performed for both legs, and the average of the values was used. The strength was then adjusted based on body weight. Patients were categorised as having “high” or “low” strength, depending on whether their value was above or below the median for their sex.
The median leg strength for women was 33 per cent of their body weight, while for men, it was 52 per cent of their body weight. Out of the participants, 451 had low leg strength, and 481 had high leg strength.
The researchers found that patients with high leg strength had a 41 per cent lower risk of developing heart failure compared to those with low leg strength. Additionally, for every 5 per cent increase in leg strength relative to body weight, there was an 11 per cent lower likelihood of heart failure.
Study author Mr. Kensuke Ueno, a physical therapist at the Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Sagamihara, Japan said the study’s findings could help treat heart failure more effectively.
“Quadriceps strength is easy and simple to measure accurately in clinical practice,” Ueno said.
“Our study indicates that quadriceps strength could help to identify patients at a higher risk of developing heart failure after myocardial infarction who could then receive more intense surveillance.
“The findings need to be replicated in other studies, but they do suggest that strength training involving the quadriceps muscles should be recommended for patients who have experienced a heart attack to prevent heart failure.”
Heart failure impacts more than 26 million individuals globally and imposes a substantial load on patients and the healthcare system. In Australia alone, the condition leads to over 1 million days in hospital each year, amounting to an estimated cost of $3.1 billion to the Australian health system.
Annually, more than 100,000 adults in Australia experience heart failure, resulting in over 3,000 fatalities.
Heart failure primarily affects older individuals, with two-thirds of those affected in Australia being over 65 years old.
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