KINGSPORT – Robin Harris, clinical director for the Wellmont CVA Heart Institute’s HeartSUCCESS® program, recently earned top research abstract honors at the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses’ annual meeting in Montreal.
The abstract, Exercise in Heart Failure Patients: Physiological and Psychosocial Effects of a Home-based Combined Aerobic and Resistance Exercise Training Program, won first place in the oral abstract competition. It was based on research Harris conducted for her dissertation. She received her doctorate in nursing from the University of Tennessee in 2012.
Harris’ research focused on answering a question she frequently hears from patients: Is it safe for patients with heart failure to exercise? Based on her research, the answer to the question for patients with systolic heart failure is yes.
“Patients with heart failure often ask me what exercise they can perform,” said Harris, a nurse practitioner who is certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. “Some are reluctant or scared to be active because of shortness of breath and fatigue during physical activity, which are symptoms of heart failure. I wanted to learn more how exercise affects patients with heart failure so I could answer their questions and share the information with other healthcare providers.”
Harris decided the best way to answer this question was to design a study. She focused on people with systolic heart failure – which means reduced heart pumping function – rather than patients with diastolic heart failure – which means the heart pumps normally but is stiff and the relaxation phase of the heart pumping action is abnormal.
She recruited 71 participants for the study. Sixty seven of them completed the 12-week program, which included aerobic and resistance training exercises.
“We started with walking for the aerobic portion, and once patients became more active, we introduced resistance training exercises using hand-held dumbbells,” she said. “Exercise was beneficial for people in the study, and this protocol was shown to be safe for this group.”
Study participants were divided into two groups – an intervention group that participated in the exercise program and a control group that received usual heart failure care with no specific exercise regimen. The intervention group that took part in the exercise regimen fared better.
“The participants who were least active at the start had the best results at the end – they benefited the most,” Harris said. “Patients in the intervention group improved the distance walked in the six-minute walk test. They also increased the number of steps taken each day and the total number of minutes walked each week.”
Harris’ abstract was chosen as the best by the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses’ research committee, which invited her to be one of four presenters at the conference. She was recognized with a complimentary registration for next year’s meeting in Los Angeles, and her abstract will be published in the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses’ official journal, Heart & Lung: The Journal of Acute and Critical Care.
“We’re proud of Robin for this recognition and the high-quality work she produces for our innovative HeartSUCCESS® program,” said Dr. Jerry Blackwell, a medical doctor and the heart institute’s president. “Robin is making quite a positive difference for her patients, and her research has been important in proving the value of exercise in assuring good heart health.”
Harris’ research has also led her to ask more questions and become interested in further investigation about creating an exercise protocol for patients by degree of heart failure. But for now, she is glad to be able to give patients with systolic heart failure a definitive answer when they ask whether it is safe for them to exercise.
“There are benefits to exercise in the heart failure population,” she said. “Now when patients ask whether they should exercise, I can give them an answer. If patients incorporate exercise into their lives, they can have more energy and feel better. I see patients every day who want to feel better, and exercising can improve their quality of life.”