The Effectiveness of Progressive Aerobic Interval Training in Cardiac Rehabilitation

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Aerobic interval training (AIT) has recently emerged as a more effective strategy than moderate-intensity continuous exercise (MICE) for improving peak oxygen consumption (V˙O2peak) in coronary artery disease (CAD) patients. The primary purpose of this retrospective study was to describe the change in V˙O2peak, and cardiovascular (CV) risk profile characteristics (secondary outcomes) after progressive AIT practiced in the largest, outpatient cardiac rehabilitation (CR) program in North America compared with usual care CR involving MICE.


Electronic database records were retrieved from consecutively enrolled patients with CAD who attended the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, between January 1, 2005, and December 31, 2015. Patients were then separated into two, age and sex propensity score-matched groups: 772 patients were prescribed 26 wk of MICE (60%–80% of V˙O2peak, five times per week) as per usual care CR (56.0 ± 9.2 yr; 12% female/88% male; V˙O2peak: 20.8 ± 5.9 mL·kg−1·min−1), and 772 patients were prescribed 26 wk of progressive walk/jog intervals (15 min·mile−1 walking pace, 12 min·mile−1 jogging pace, five times per week) (55.9 ± 9.3 yr; 12% female/88% male; V˙O2peak: 24.8 ± 5.7 mL·kg−1 ·min−1). Treatment effect analysis of AIT on V˙O2peak and CV risk profile characteristics was performed using multiple regression with baseline values as covariates.


Treatment effect analysis revealed a 3.84-mL·kg−1·min−1 superior improvement in V˙O2peak in the AIT group compared to usual care MICE group (P < 0.001). Furthermore, AIT significantly improved BMI, triglycerides, hip and abdominal girth, and depression score compared with MICE (P < 0.023 for all).


Progressive AIT performed in a standard, outpatient CR program appears to be superior to usual care MICE for improving V˙O2peak, CV risk profile characteristics, and depression score in stable CAD patients. These findings may have important implications for exercise training guidelines in the rehabilitation setting, and in future studies.

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