Can exercise improve ejection fraction?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Can exercise improve ejection fraction? My mother-in-law has had heart failure and coronary artery disease for many years. She had bypass surgery six weeks ago, and her ejection fraction (EF) is now 10 percent -- what it was before surgery. She'll begin a cardiac rehabilitation program in two weeks, for three days a week. Will that help raise her EF? Right now she can only walk about half a block, once a day. Should we encourage more exercise for improving ejection fraction?

Expert Answer

Barry M. Massie is chief of cardiology at the San Francisco V.A. Medical Center.

Cardiac rehabilitation may not play a major role in raising your mother-in-law's EF, but it should improve her quality of life and her ability to be active. EF is a helpful marker for physicians, but it isn't the be-all and end-all of rehabilitation. Some patients feel good and remain active in spite of having a low EF. The real goal is to improve your mother-in-law's health and quality of life.

That said, your mother-in-law's EF may rise over the next few months as a result of the surgery, which should improve blood flow to her heart. Her return to activity should be gradual, so it's helpful to have the close follow-up that's available in a cardiac rehabilitation program. The program will also provide emotional support and patient education. Three days a week is a good start, and her doctor will provide recommendations for appropriate levels of activity at other times.