Higher Leg Muscle Strength Associated With Lower Risk Of Heart Failure After A Heart Attack
Anyone who goes to a gym or who exercises on a regular basis knows the importance of Leg Day—a day of workouts that focus on the legs, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. While lower body exercises like squats, lunges, and calf raises can help strengthen leg muscles, a new study reports that strong legs can lead to a strong heart.
According to research presented at Heart Failure 2023, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), people with strong legs are less likely to develop heart failure after a heart attack.
Signs Of A Silent Heart Attack
Previous studies suggest that six to nine percent of people who have a heart attack go on to develop heart failure, making heart attacks the most prevalent cause of heart failure. According to earlier research, people with coronary artery disease who have strong quadriceps had a decreased chance of death.
In the latest study, researchers tested the hypothesis that associates leg strength with the lower risk of developing heart failure after a heart attack. The study involved 932 patients hospitalized in 2007 to 2020 with acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) who did not have heart failure prior to their admission and did not develop heart failure complications while hospitalized. The average age of the participants was 66 years old and 81 percent were men.
The investigative team used maximum strength of the quadriceps (the group of muscles at the front of the thigh) to indicate leg strength. Patients sat on a chair and contracted the quadriceps muscles as hard as possible for five seconds. A handheld dynamometer attached to the ankle recorded the maximum value in kilograms. Measurement was done on both legs and researchers used the average of both values.
Strength was expressed in relation to body weight, meaning that quadriceps strength in kilograms was divided by the patients’ body weight in kilograms and multiplied by 100 for a percentage body weight value.
Patients were then classified as having either a “high” or “low” strength based on whether their value was above or below the median for their sex. The median for women was 33 percent body weight and 52 percent body weight for men. Based on this value, 451 patients had low quadriceps strength and 481 patients had high strength.
The investigative team said patients who had low quadricep strength had a higher incidence of developing heart failure after their heart attack compared with those who had high strength. According to researchers, high quadricep strength is associated with a 41 percent lower risk of developing heart failure after a heart attack. What’s more, team members determined that each five percent body weight increment in quadriceps strength was associated with an 11 percent lower likelihood of heart failure.
This research shows how quadriceps strength is easy and simple to measure accurately in clinical practice, the study’s author, Kensuke Ueno, a physical therapist at the Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Sagamihara, Japan, 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,” Ueno said in a news release. “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.”
The latest research joins previous studies that suggest strength training after a heart attack can benefit the heart. In addition, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting more physical activity after a heart attack than before the cardiac event. But Joan Pagano, a certified exercise physiologist in New York City, cautions against doing too much exercise too soon.
“You need to have a gradual progression starting with a cardiac rehab program. They would guide you into a regular fitness training program,” Pagano told GoodRX Health.
Lifestyle Changes Promote A Stronger Heart
The AHA says the majority of people go on to live long, productive lives after their first heart attack; however, about 20 percent of people over the age of 45 will experience a second heart attack within five years of the first.
Besides keeping physically active, the AHA has five suggestions for preventing a second heart attack:
- Take your medications as prescribed. The risk of having another heart attack can be reduced by taking certain medications. Because of this, it is critical that patients understand their medications and take them as directed.
- Attend your follow-up appointments. Attending follow-up appointments helps doctors in monitoring their patients’ recovery and condition. It’s also important for patients to prepare questions for their doctor prior to the appointment. By getting ready for your appointment, you can make the most of your time with your doctor.
- Participate in cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program that aids in a patient’s recovery following a heart attack. Doctors usually refer their patients to cardiac rehab after they are discharged from the hospital. Patients who did not receive a referral can ask their doctors about it.
- Get support. It’s common for patients to feel afraid, overwhelmed, and confused after having a heart attack. So, support from family members or people who have had a heart attack is essential. The AHA has a support network that connects heart attack survivors and caregivers with others who have gone through the same experience.
- Manage your risk factors. After a heart attack, it is important for people to manage their high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other risk factors that can cause cardiac events.
The AHA also advises against smoking and recommends maintaining a healthy diet that helps control weight, lower blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. According to the AHA, making lifestyle changes and staying physically active are among the most important things you can do to prevent another heart attack.
“After a heart attack it is even more important to exercise, because this is how you will regain the strength of your heart,” Pagano told GoodRX Health.