Relation of a Maximal Exercise Test to Change in Exercise Tolerance During Cardiac Rehabilitation

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The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that an individualized exercise training target heart rate (HR) based on a maximal graded exercise test (GXT) is associated with greater improvements in exercise tolerance during cardiac rehabilitation (CR) compared with no GXT. In this retrospective study, we identified patients who completed 9 to 36 visits of CR between 2001 and 2016, with a length of stay ≤18 weeks and a visit frequency of 1 to 3 days per week. Patients were grouped based on whether their exercise was guided by a target HR determined from a GXT. To assess the relation between GXT and change in exercise training metabolic equivalents of task (METs), we used generalized linear models adjusted for age, gender, race, referral reason, CR visits, CR frequency, METs at start, CR location, and year of participation. Out of 4,455 patients (37% female, 48% White, median age = 62 years), 53% were prescribed a target HR based on a GXT. Compared with no GXT, a GXT was associated with a significantly greater increase in covariate-adjusted METs during CR and percentage change from start (+0.44 METs [95% confidence interval [CI] 0.38 to 0.51] and +17% [95% CI 14% to 19%], respectively). In a sensitivity analysis limited to patients with 24 to 36 visits at ≥2 days per week (n = 1,319), a GXT was associated with a significantly greater increase in covariate-adjusted exercise training METs (+0.51 [95% CI 0.36 to 0.66]; +19% [95% CI 13% to 24%]). In conclusion, to maximize the potential increase in exercise capacity during CR, patients should undergo a GXT to determine an individualized exercise training target HR.